Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December 9, 2008 — It’s been a long year – but it’s about to get longer. The economy isn’t the only thing slowing down; it seems the earth itself is screeching to a halt (albeit very, very, very slowly) and therefore the world’s timekeepers must artificially tack one second onto the end of the year to keep their atomic clocks accurate, according to a story printed in the Rocky Mountain News Dec. 9. Which leads me to two questions: First, who the hell are, “the world’s timekeepers?” I’m picturing a covey of little bird-like men in lab coats, gathering in the industrial basement of a large University in Brussels or Leipzig, humming and muttering and constantly checking their watches. And second, atomic clocks are supposed to be accurate to within 1 gazzilion googles …

so how is the monstrously large “second” supposed to make everything OK again?
Either way the planet is doomed. The equations which describe the orbits of the planets, first devised by Johannes Kepler in the late 1500s, have been fine-tuned with the help of more than a few famous scientists (Newton, Einstein, you know the drill) and we’ve discovered that the Earth’s gravitational interaction with the sun and the other planets is grinding our happy little sphere to a halt. They should make a movie about it, eh? Perhaps call it, "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and find a dreamboat actor with questionable intelligence and ambiguous sexual behavior to play the leading role?

Or maybe they’ve already done that.
But I digress. If you’re worried about the Earth grinding to a halt, have no fear. Our planet is doomed to be swallowed by the sun long before it stops spinning. Experts in the field aren’t sure if the sun, as it matriculates through its various stages of death, will expand beyond the boundaries of the earth’s orbit or simply edge right up alongside us, making our planet hotter than Mercury and drowning us in electromagnetic waves of fury, evaporating our seas, ripping away our atmosphere, and blasting us with a storm of particles so intense that even the smallest microscopic cells of life will be torn to pieces, leaving nothing alive. In order to stick around long enough to see this better-than-high-definition, real-life destruction of our planet, you’ll have to live a long, long, long time (and presumably find a new place to live). But time is marching on, and in 7.5 billion years, whether you’re here or not, the Earth will become uninhabitable. So I recommend enjoying it while it lasts – preferably with a really rockin’ New Year’s party. And as you’re heading into 2009 remember two things: the planet is doomed to a fiery death, and you must time your kisses appropriately, because this year’s countdown goes like this: 5 … 4… 3… 2… 1… 1… HAPPY NEW YEAR!
One second overtime for 2008
Sofia Echo, Bulgaria - 4 hours ago
As if being a leap year was not enough, with the additional one second that scientists intend to add to the last day of 2008, this will be the longest year ...


This weekend sees the release of the 'remake' of the classic 1951 alien contact film, The Day the Earth Stood Still (we noted its pervasive influence in Monday's News Briefs). With Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly and John Cleese playing the leading characters, the updated storyline shifts the focus from the perils of nuclear weaponry (a major concern in 1951) to the dangers of human degradation of the environment, and updates the sci-fi technology aspect to a more 'modern' view (e.g. the flying saucer becomes a 'temporal space translator'). Here's the trailer:

Interesting to note that SETI's Seth Shostak was consultant on the film, and he's written a piece for about the experience. Shostak corrected technical details, and also nit-picked the scientific dialogue - to the point where it seems that director Scott Derrickson got a little peeved:

Derrickson joked that initially he was chagrined to get the first draft of the script back from Shostak with huge sections crossed out as being wrong-wrongedy-wrong. Derrickson needed more than that, and wasn't afraid to say so: "I said, 'Okay, I get it, the draft was wrong, now stop being so condescending and help me figure out what the lines should be.'"

Given his recent CSICOPian tendencies, I wonder if Shostak put a big red line through the complete aliens-visiting-Earth concept with a note saying "well this is obviously impossible and there's no evidence to suggest it!"...

Actually, when I saw that Shostak was a consultant on the film, I pondered on the possible discussions between he and John Cleese, given the Monty Python star's interest in 'fringe' ideas. Sure enough, Seth Shostak mentions it in his article:

Between takes, both Reeves and Cleese solicited my opinion on subjects that had nothing to do with the film. In particular, they wanted to know why we're here. What's the grander meaning of our existence? Apparently a lot of people assume that astronomers, who deal with big things and long timescales, have some insight into what life is all about. More than, say, tax accountants.

"Surely," Cleese ventured, "we're here for a purpose." I figured that a lifetime of standing around movie and television sets, not to mention the front desk at Fawlty Towers, had prompted this question.

"Well, John," I responded, "maybe that's true. Maybe there is some grand plan. But then again, you might have asked that question 100 million years ago, hanging out with a bunch of your dinosaur pals. The answer then was 'you're just a dinosaur.' The answer today might be no more profound."

I'm not sure Cleese was fully gratified by my response.

Trailers, images and additional content related to the new film can be found at the official movie site.

New Year 2009 delayed by one second to correct atomic clocks, United Kingdom - 7 hours ago
New Year will arrive a second late when time across the globe is adjusted to account for the changes in the Earth's rotation. ...
2008 to be extended by one second
New Scientist (subscription), UK - 22 hours ago
Those eager to see 2008 come to a close will have to wait a second longer. A single leap second will be added at the end of the year to accommodate a subtle ...
"Leap Second" To Be Added On December 31
Oneindia, India - Dec 9, 2008
US Naval Observatory is going to add a "leap second” to the world's clocks at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). ...
This year will be just a second longer
MSNBC - Dec 8, 2008
By Andrea Thompson Like the more well-known time adjustment, the leap year, a "leap second" is tacked on to clocks every so often to keep them correct. ...
Wait a second: 2008 gets extended by timekeepers
The Associated Press - Dec 8, 2008
WASHINGTON (AP) — With a brutal economic slowdown, 2008 may feel as if it will never end. Now the world's timekeepers are making it even longer by adding a ...
Hang on a second: Why New Year will be a fraction late this year
Daily Mail, UK - 2 hours ago
By Daily Mail Reporter Big Ben, at the stroke of midnight. Revellers will have an extra second to see out 2008 Those who are eager to start afresh in 2009 ...
This Year Will Be a Moment Longer A second will be added on ...
Softpedia, Romania - 9 hours ago
By Dan Talpalariu, Science Editor We hope you've had a great year, because 2008 is just about to get longer. Not much longer – only by a second; ...
A second look
Clanton Advertiser, AL - 12 hours ago
By Brent Maze (Contact) | Clanton Advertiser Timekeepers must be an unusual breed of people. While most of us could care less whether our clocks are set ...
'Leap second' makes 2008 longest year since 1992
KSBY, CA - 15 hours ago
Are you ready for 2009 to get here? Well, you will have to wait one extra second. That's because an international group of time keepers has agreed to ...
2008 was too short, by exactly one second
TG Daily - 17 hours ago
By Rick C. Hodgin Frankfurt (Germany) - The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) will add a leap second to 2008. ...
Just a Second
Nextgov, DC - 23 hours ago
By Allan Holmes | Tuesday, December 9, 2008 | 11:19 AM There's the leap year and then there's the leap second. Because the Earth is slowing down, ...
2008 is getting longer…by a second
KTNV Las Vegas, NV - Dec 9, 2008
This year is already extra long because it was a leap year, now it will even longer, because we're getting a leap second. Timekeepers are adding that 1 ...
Wait a second: 2008 gets extended by timekeepers
KDBC, TX - Dec 8, 2008
AP - December 8, 2008 5:23 PM ET The world's timekeepers are adding a leap second to the last day of the year. It's because the Earth is slowing down just a ...
2008 Gets Longer By One Second
RedOrbit, TX - 22 hours ago
The world's timekeepers are making the year 2008 even longer by adding a leap second to the last day of the year. The Earth is slowing down, which requires ...
2008 Will Be Longer Than Expected
KWTX, TX - Dec 9, 2008
(December 9, 2008)--The world's timekeepers are adding a leap second to the last day of the 2008 because the Earth is slowing down just a bit. ...

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