Space Timekeeping: NASA's
SDO Adds Leap Second
to Master Clock
On Dec. 31, 2016, official clocks around the world will add a leap second just before midnight Coordinated Universal Time — which corresponds to 6:59:59 p.m. EST. NASA missions will also have to make the switch, including the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, which watches the sun 24/7.
Clocks do this to keep in sync with Earth's rotation, which gradually slows down over time. When the dinosaurs roamed Earth, for example, our globe took only 23 hours to make a complete rotation. In space, millisecond accuracy is crucial to understanding how satellites orbit.
"SDO moves about 1.9 miles every second," said Dean Pesnell, the project scientist for SDO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "So does every other object in orbit near SDO. We all have to use the same time to make sure our collision avoidance programs are accurate. So we all add a leap second to the end of 2016, delaying 2017 by one second."
By Karen C. Fox
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Last Updated: Dec. 30, 2016
Editor: Rob Garner
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