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NASA SDO Ushers In The New Year, Adds Leap Second To Master Clock

Jan 04, 2017 11:44 AM EST
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NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory added a leap second to its master clock in order to move in sync with Earth's Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
(Photo : Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is staring at the Sun 24/7 in order to aid scientists in monitoring the activities of the center of the Solar System. But timekeeping in space is a lot more difficult compared to Earth as every millisecond is crucial.

Recently, the official clock in the world added a leap second. This was done before midnight Coordinated Universal Time (6:59:59 p.m. EST). In line with that, the SDO's master clock followed suit including other NASA missions.

This maneuver is not just a simple clock adjustment; this is actually done to keep the clock movements around the world in sync with the rotation of the Earth. The rotation slows down over a certain period of time thus the need to add a leap second every now and then. How drastic are the changes? Based on NASA's report, the Earth during the dinosaur era used to take only 23 hours for one full rotation.

In science, every millisecond counts, so the accuracy of clocks around the globe is vital. It is also crucial in the observation of satellites, according to a report.

"SDO moves about 1.9 miles every second," Dean Pesnell, the project scientist for SDO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said in a press release. "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," Pesnell added.

In order to produce precise observations, the master clock of the SDO should be in sync with the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). The time is embedded in every image taken by the SDO, which is again vital in studying the movements of the Sun.

The SDO has a clock that's been ticking since the mission started, adjustments are consistently being made to incorporate the leap seconds added to the Coordinated Universal Time to sync the movement.

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