Did you sleep well?

1 07 2012

Did you wake this morning feeling especially rested? Or did you toss and turn all night wondering why the night was taking so long?

Either way, you were right. Last night we had an extra-long night (30 June 2012), thanks to a leap second.

Yes, our official time (courtesy of the atomic clock which measures time via atomic vibrations) gets slightly out of synch with “real” (solar) time, by which I mean the natural time set by the rotation of the earth around the sun. Again, the moon is at fault; the tidal surges, waxes and wanes are causing a slight slowing and wobbling of the earth’s rotation. Hadn’t you noticed the wobbles?

We could adjust the length of the unit we call a second to account for this, a minuscule lengthening. But then counting “one-hippopotamus, two-hippopotamus” etc might not work so well. And it’s not even regular about how often the atomic clock needs adjusting. It has been adjusted 25 times since such accurate time measurement began in 1972. The first year saw two leap seconds (June 30 and December 30), followed by seven years of one second per year. The last three adjustments were 1998, 2005 and 2008.

So instead we wait until a whole second has accumulated and add a leap second, just as we add a leap year, thereby adjusting our inflexible human system of measuring time to the mutable system that exists in nature.

And so we got an extra second last night, to sleep, toss and turn, or party, whatever you happened to be doing at 11:59:60 last night, which fell between 11:59:59 and 12:00:00 (midnight at the International Dateline).

Hope you enjoyed it! And if you wasted it, don’t worry another one is sure to come along sooner or later!

UPDATE: Latebreaking news! While the Y2K bug turned out to be a fizzer, the leap-second has actually had consequences! For those who are too young to remember the Y2K bug, this was the predicted beginning of the apocalypse caused because computer programmes in the 1980s and 1990s apparently didn’t have the forethought to realise that eventually in the not too distant future, computers with a clock in their functioning would need to click over from 19XX to 20XX. People (who would now be called preppers) stocked up on water supplies and canned goods and built underground bunkers. Planes were going to drop out of the sky. Nothing happened. Complete fizzer.

The leap second on the other hand has managed to bring down the airport check-in system at Australian airports, resulting in airline staff having to check in passengers and luggage by hand, delayed flights and lots of irritable grumpy passengers. Also reportedly brought down, Reddit, Gawker, LinkedIn, Yelp and Foursquare. And according to news reports, this is because the computer couldn’t cope with the leap second (which was 9:59:60 in Australia EST).

Have you heard of any other effects?

Want more? Try…
Why the moon rules your life and..
Lunar-tics

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Why the moon rules your life

29 06 2012

I do not believe in astrology, particularly the sort published in newspapers and popular magazines. I do not believe that constellations of burning gases billions of light years away, so far that no human can ever make the journey from earth to these constellations in one lifetime, can possibly rule my life, let alone give me a commonality with 1/12th of the population.

The moon however is a different matter. This hunk of rock is orbiting the earth close enough for its mass and gravitational field to affect the oceans and tides, and, I would argue, us.

I have previously written about the effect of the full moon on human behaviour. Personally I think the tide goes out on our collective brains – some more than others. I accept that scientists have been unable to confirm this, but attest that no scientist ever accompanied me on a full-moon Saturday night shift in the medical emergency service I used to work at. People ran screaming from the building – and that was the staff. The punters ran screaming INTO the building. All in all, a noisy and eventful experience.

My back-up hypothesis is that the additional light from the full moon means people are more likely to be out and about, or at least unsettled. This sounds more plausible, but the tide out in the brain thing is much more interesting.

And while we may not enjoy the effect the moon has on us, I have recently discovered that the moon is also not enjoying our company. Apparently it is fleeing from our orbit at the rate of 2 inches per year. Seriously. Fast enough to make a difference, slow enough for us not to notice unless we are determined to use reflectors and lasers and trigonometry. And most of us aren’t, so you and I will have to take the word of George Darwin (son of Charles) who hypothesised this and the NASA scientists who confirmed it.

Now the effect f the moon on the earth apparently has some interesting effects on the earth. It is quite well-known that the moon influences the tides. This is particularly well-known to people who read the beginning of this posting quite carefully.

But the effect of these frequent tides is to slow the earth’s rotation down. So without the moon, the earth would be spinning a lot faster and hence our “days” would be much shorter – as much as three times shorter. Imagine an 8-hour day instead of 24 hours. You’d barely get anything done when it would be night again.

This of course, would not only be inconvenient, but probably we would all have evolved differently – different sleep patterns, different adaptations. Not just us, but plants and animals as well. And given that life is thought to have originated in the oceans….well, what effect would fewer tides have had on the mixing of the primordial soup?

And then the faster the earth spins, the more winds are generated – producing waves and weather. So if the earth is spinning slower, then weaker waves and weather patterns.

In other words, a different planet entirely.

Fascinating stuff, but one more important fact: You weigh slightly less when the moon is directly overhead. No moon means it is pointless to wait until the middle of the night to weigh yourself for maximum effect.

What – you don’t do that? Just me then.

PS – enjoy the July 4th full moon!