The Earth is spinning faster and faster, warns Meta: “Potentially devastating effects on computer systems”

Engineers Oleg Obleukhov and Ahmad Byagowi wrote about it in a blog post, concerned about the possible (and unprecedented) introduction of a negative leap second to keep up with the average solar day.

Latest June 29 humanity lived the shortest day as it has been (very precisely) tracked thanks to atomic clocks, i.e. since the 1960s, but it is completely unlikely that anyone would have noticed. The reason is soon told: midnight struck with barely 1.59 milliseconds ahead compared to the “canonical” 24 hours (or 86,400 seconds). Less than a blink of an eye. It seems like a trifle, instead it is an emblematic event of theacceleration of Earth’s rotation that has been observed since 2016. It is no coincidence that the second position in the ranking was then conquered, not even a month later, on July 26 (1.50 milliseconds earlier). Subtle variations, of course, but which in the long run risk causing very serious impacts on digital devices.

The possible causes of the phenomenon.

Even scientists are still unclear on the reason for such an increase in speed. The truth is that around 1.4 billion years ago our planet employee less than 19 hours to make a full turn. so he has slowed down by about 74,000 milliseconds per yearup to the current 24. What event, then, is at the base of the trend reversal? There are probably several concomitant factors -from La Niña to the influence of the Moon on the tides, from the melting of the polar caps to the movements of the inner core-, but the main hypothesis is that a leading role is being played by the “Chandler’s Wobble” (“Chandler Oscillation”), a term that designates the small oscillations due to the imperfect sphericity of the Earth that have the effect of cyclic displacement of the global axis of rotation 3-4 meters from the North Pole with a period of 433 days.

leap seconds

Beyond the analysis of the causes, it is clear that the continuation of the long-term trend may lead to the need for “Take” a second off our clocks, in a mirror image of what was happening periodically until six years ago, when the Earth’s rotation was slowing down. In technical jargon we speak of “leap seconds»: So far in history have been adopted 27 – the first in 1972, the last in 2016 -, no matter how positive, that is, additional. In other words, on the appointed dates the hands have marked 23:59:60 before moving on to the next day (happened 11 times between June 30 and July 1, 16 times between December 31 and January 1). In the future, however, to keep Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) aligned with the mean solar day you may need to use the reverse operationactivating midnight directly after 23:59:58.

goal alarm

Despite being a rather premature eventuality at the moment, the hypothesis of introducing a negative leap second has already wreaked havoc in the offices of Half, parent company of Facebook and Instagram. In a blog post published on July 25, in fact, Menlo Park engineers Oleg Obleukhov Y Ahmad Byagowi have declared that they want to work for “Stop further introduction of leap seconds” for “the next thousand years at least”. “As a sector -they wrote-, we run into problems every time a leap second is introduced. And because it’s such a rare event, it devastates the community every time it happens.” Consequently, “since the impact of a negative leap second has never been tested on a large scale, this could have a devastating effect in software based on timers or programming tools. And in any case, every leap second is one huge source of pain for those managing hardware infrastructures“In fact, a perspective worthy of the Millennium Bug, the computer error that, according to rumors, was supposed to send computer systems around the world into a tailspin on January 1, 2000. It remains only to hope that it is also in this case a false alarmbut judging by who launched it, it is desirable that initiates hold it in high regard.

August 10


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