Science

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ... 1, Happy New Year!

Celebrants gearing up to say goodbye to 2008 will have to wait an extra second before popping bottles and pursing lips to usher in the new year.

Timekeepers add extra second to countdown to 2009

Celebrants gearing up to say goodbye to 2008 will have to wait an extra second before popping bottles and pursing lips to usher in the new year.

Timekeepers at the Royal Observatory of Greenwich will be adding a "leap second" of time to the clock on Wednesday, a method used sporadically over the past 30 years to offset the fractional slowing of the Earth's rotation.

The extra second will be squeezed in on Dec. 31 after 6:59:59 p.m. and before 7 p.m. ET. Combined with the extra day on Feb. 29, the extra second will make 2008 the longest year since 1992.

The seconds have been added as needed since 1972, sometimes at the end of December and sometimes at the end of June, depending on the speed of the Earth's rotation.

Though the time shift is so nominal it's not even noticeable, accumulated over a millennium it would mean that noon, generally accepted as the time when the sun is highest in the sky, would actually occur at 1 p.m.

If seconds continued to be added over time, however, the sun would be days behind the human calendar within tens of thousands of years.

That prospect is a cause for worry for some.

"I think [our descendants] will curse us less if we choose to keep the clock reading near 12 p.m. when the sun is highest in the sky," said Steve Allen, an analyst at the University of California at Santa Cruz's Lick Observatory.

The decision to add an extra second to the clock was made by an international consortium of timekeepers, and announced earlier this month.

With files from the Associated Press

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