Why 2016 Is One Second Longer Than a Regular Year
Whyyyyyyyyyyy. Ugh whyyy.
At times, it has seemed as though 2016 might never end. And as it turns out, this is actually one of the longest years you have ever lived.
Thanks to a little thing called a “leap second,” Dec. 31, 2016, will bring with it a full, extra second before we can properly celebrate the beginning of 2017.
The reasoning behind it is surprisingly practical and will make you feel a little less spiteful for a never-ending year that's taken David Bowie, Prince, Gwen Ifill, and George Gaynes, to name only a few: It's meant to keep our clocks in better tune with the Earth's rotation, to “ensure agreement between the physical and astronomical time scales,” according to the Earth Orientation Center.
The Earth's rotation is slowing, and adding a second to strategic days throughout the year—typically June 30 or December 31—ensures we don't eventually end up with sunlight at night and dark skies at noon (unless you're on a pole, of course).
You probably won't notice that extra second. But if you're staring at a clock (as some do on New Year's Ever as the Times Square ball is preparing to drop)—where does that second show up? Well, it won't; not on your digital clock, anyway. However, if you own a clock that tracks Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, you can watch the extra second come and go.
There's also an online UTC clock, if watching the ball drop isn't your cup of tea.
If you have more questions, TimeandDate.com has a useful explainer.
Here's to making the best of what may be the most poorly timed leap second ever.