2008 Will be a second longer Leap Second to be added to UTC

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New Year’s celebrations will have to wait another second this year as the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) have decided to 2008 is to have Leap Second added.

IERS announced in Paris in July that a positive Leap Second was to be added to 2008, the first since Dec. 31, 2005. Leap Seconds were introduced to compensate for the unpredictability of the Earth’s rotation and to keep UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) with GMT (Greenwich Meantime).

The new extra second will be added on the last day of this year at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time — 6:59:59 pm Eastern Standard Time. 33 Leap Seconds have been added since 1972

NTP server systems controlling time synchronisation on computer networks are all governed by UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). When an additional second is added at the end of the year UTC will automatically be altered as the additional second. #

Whether a NTP server receives a time signal fro transmissions such as MSF, WWVB or DCF or from the GPS network the signal will automatically carry the Leap Second announcement.

Notice of Leap Second from the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS)

SERVICE INTERNATIONAL DE LA ROTATION TERRESTRE ET DES SYSTEMES DE REFERENCE

SERVICE DE LA ROTATION TERRESTRE
OBSERVATOIRE DE PARIS
61, Av. de l’Observatoire 75014 PARIS (France)
Tel.      : 33 (0) 1 40 51 22 26
FAX       : 33 (0) 1 40 51 22 91
e-mail    : services.iers@obspm.fr
https://hpiers.obspm.fr/eop-pc

Paris, 4 July 2008

Bulletin C 36

To authorities responsible for the measurement and distribution of time

UTC TIME STEP
on the 1st of January 2009

A positive leap second will be introduced at the end of December 2008.
The sequence of dates of the UTC second markers will be:

2008 December 31,     23h 59m 59s
2008 December 31,     23h 59m 60s
2009 January   1,      0h  0m  0s

The difference between UTC and the International Atomic Time TAI is:

from 2006 January 1, 0h UTC, to 2009 January 1  0h UTC  : UTC-TAI = – 33s
from 2009 January 1, 0h UTC, until further notice       : UTC-TAI = – 34s

Leap seconds can be introduced in UTC at the end of the months of December

Atomic Clocks and the NTP Server Using Quantum Mechanics to Tell the Time

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Telling the time is not as straight forward as most people think. In fact the very question, ‘what is the time?’ is a question that even modern science can fail to answer. Time, according to Einstein, is relative; it’s passing changes for different observers, affected by such things as speed and gravity.

Even when we all live on the same planet and experience the passing of time in a similar way, telling the time can be increasingly difficult. Our original method of using the Earth’s rotation has since been discovered to be inaccurate as the Moon’s gravity causes some days to be longer than 24 hours and a few to be shorter. In fact when the early dinosaurs were roaming the Earth a day was only 22 hours long!

Whilst mechanical and electronic clocks have provided us with some degree accuracy, our modern technologies have required far more accurate time measurements. GPS, Internet trading and air traffic control are just three industries were split second timing is incredibly important.

So how do we keep track of time? Using the Earth’s rotation has proven unreliable whilst electrical oscillators (quartz clocks) and mechanical clocks are only accurate to a second or two per day. Unfortunately for many of our technologies a second inaccuracy can be far too long. In satellite navigation, light can travel 300,000 km in just over a second, making the average sat-nav unit useless if there was one second of inaccuracy.

The solution to finding an accurate method of measuring time has been to examine the very small – quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is the study of the atom and its properties and how they interact. It was discovered that electrons, the tiny particles that orbit atoms changed the path that they orbit and released a precise amount of energy when they do so.

In the case of the caesium atom this occurs nearly nine billion times a second and this number never alters and so can be used as an ultra reliable method of keeping track of time. Caesium atoms are use din atomic clocks and in fact the second is now defined as just over 9 billion cycles of radiation of the caesium atom.

Atomic clocks
are the foundation for many of our technologies. The entire global economy relies on them with the time relayed by NTP time servers on computer networks or beamed down by GPS satellites; ensuring the entire world keeps the same, accurate and stable time.

An official global timescale, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) has been developed thanks to atomic clocks allowing the whole world to run the same time to within a few thousandths of a second from each other.

GPS Time Server Receiving Time from Space

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GPS time servers are network time servers that receive a timing signal from the GPS network and distribute it amongst all devices on a network ensuring that the entire network is synchronised.

GPS is an ideal time source as a GPS signal is available anywhere on the globe. GPS stands for Global Positioning System, the GPS network is owned by the US military and controlled and run by the US air force (space wing). It is however, since the late 1980’s been opened up to the world’s civilian population as tool to aid navigation.

The GPS network is actually a constellation of 32 satellites that orbit the Earth, they do not actually provide positioning information (GPS receivers do that) but transmit from their onboard atomic clocks a timing signal.

This timing signal is what is used to work out a global position by triangulating 3-4 timing signals a receiver can work out how far and therefore the position you are from a satellite. In essence then, a global positioning satellite is just an orbiting clock and it is this information that is broadcast that can be picked up by a GPS time server and distributed amongst a network.

Whilst strictly speaking GPS time is not the same as the global timescale UTC (coordinated universal time), a GPS time server will automatically convert the time format into UTC.

A GPS time server can provide unbridled accuracy with networks able to maintain accuracy to within a few milliseconds of UTC.

NTP GPS Server Synchronisation Solution

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Time synchronisation is now a critical aspect of network management enabling time sensitive applications to be conducted from across the globe. Without correct synchronisation computer systems would be unable to communicate with each other and transactions such as seat reservation, Internet auctions and online banking would be impossible.

For effective time synchronisation the global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is a prerequisite. While a computer network can be synchronised to any single time source, UTC is employed by computer networks all over the world. By synchronising to a UTC time source a computer network can therefore be synchronised to every other computer network across the globe that also use UTC as their time source.

Receiving a reliable UTC time source is not as easy as it sounds. Many network administrators opt to use a UTC Internet time source. Whilst many of these time sources are accurate enough, they can be too far away to provide reliability and there are plenty of Internet time sources that are vastly inaccurate.

Another reason why Internet time sources should not be used as a source of time synchronisation is because an Internet time source is outside of a firewall and leaving a gap in the firewall to receive timing information can leave a system open to abuse.

So that UTC time can be opted as a civil time throughout the world several national physics laboratories broadcast a UTC timing signal that can be received and utilised as a network time source. Unfortunately, however, these time signals are not available in every country and even in those areas where a signal exists; they can be quite often obstructed by interference and local topography.

Another method for receiving a source of UTC time is to use the GPS satellite network. Strictly speaking the Global Positioning System (GPS ) does not relay UTC but it is a time based on International Atomic Time (TAI) with a predefined offset. A GPS NTP clock can simply convert the GPS time into UTC for synchronisation purposes.

The main advantage of using GPS is that a GPS signal is available anywhere on the planet providing that there is a clear view of the sky above (GPS transmissions are broadcast via line-of-sight) so UTC synchronisation can be conducted anywhere.

Time Synchronisation What is time?

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Time servers are common apparatus in modern server rooms but time synchronisation has only become possible thanks to ideas of physicist of the last century and it is our these ideas of time that has made many of the technologies of the last few decades possible.

Time  is one of the most difficult of concepts to understand. Until the last century it was thought that time was a constant but it wasn’t until the ideas of Einstein that we discovered time was relative.
Relative time was a consequence of Einstein’s most popular theory the ‘General Theory of Relativity’ and its famous equation E=MC2.

What Einstein discovered was that the speed of light was the only constant in the Universe (in a vacuum anyway) and that time will differ for different observers. Einstein’s equations demonstrated that the faster an observer travelled towards the speed of light the slower time would become.

He also discovered that time wasn’t a separate entity of out universe but was part of a four dimensional space-time and that the effects of gravity would warp this space time causing time to slow.

Many modern technologies such as satellite communication and navigation have to take these ideas into account otherwise satellites would fall out of orbit and it would be impossible to communicate across the globe.

Atomic clocks are so accurate they can lose less than a second in 400 million years but consideration to Einstein’s ideas have to be taken into account as atomic clocks based at sea level run slower that those at higher altitude because of the Earth’s gravity warping spacetime.

A universal time scale has been developed called UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) which is based on the time told by atomic clocks but compensates for the minute slowing of the Earth’s rotation (caused by the gravity of the Moon) by adding Leap Seconds every year to prevent day from creeping into night (albeit in a millennia or two).

Thanks to atomic clocks and UTC time computer networks all over the world can receive a UTC time source over the Internet, via a national radio transmission or through the GPS network. A NTP server (Network Time Protocol) can synchronise all devices on a network to that time.

NTP Time Server Packet Header Explained

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Most time servers use Network Time Protocol and like other Internet based protocols NTP contains a packet header. A packet header, put simply, is just is a formatted unit of data that describes the information contained in the packet.

The NTP packet header consists of a number of 32-bit words. Here is a list of the most common packet header terms and their meaning:

IP address – the address of the NTP Time Server

NTP Version – which version of NTP (currently version 4 is the most recent)

Reference timestamp (the prime epoch ) used by NTP to work out the time from this set point (normally January 01 1900

Round trip delay (the time it takes request to arrive and come back in milliseconds)

Local clock offset – time difference between host and client

Leap indicator (if there is to be a leap second that day –normally only on 31 December)

Mode3  –  a three bit integer which values represent: 0=reserved, 1=symmetric active, 2= symmetric passive, 3=client, 4=server, 5=broadcast, 6=NTP control message, 7=reserved for private use.

Stratum level – which stratum level the NTP server is (a stratum 1 server receives the time from an atomic clock source a stratum 2 server receives the time from a stratum 1 server)

Poll Interval (How many requests is made and their intermittence)

Precision – how accurate in milliseconds is the system clock

Root Delay – This is a signed fixed-point number indicating the total roundtrip delay to the primary reference source at the root

Root dispersion (in milliseconds)- The root dispersion is the maximum (worst case) difference between the local system clock and the root of the NTP tree (stratum 1 clock)

Ref ID – 32 bit identifying the reference clock

Originate time stamp (time before synchronisation request)

Receive timestamp – the time the host/NTO time Server got the request

Transmit timestamp – the time the host sent back the request

Valid  response– is the system clock  synchronised or not

NTP Server History and Implementation

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Network Time Protocol (NTP) was, invented by Dr David Mills from the University of Delaware, it has been in utilized since 1985 and is still in constant development. NTP is a protocol designed to synchronize the clocks on computers and networks across the Internet or Local Area Networks (LANs). Most networks are synchronised via NTP to a UTC time source (coordinated universal time)

UTC is based on the time told by atomic clocks and is used globally as standardized time source.

NTP (version 4) can maintain time over the public Internet to within 10 milliseconds (1/100th of a second)  of UTC time and can perform even better over LANs with accuracies of 200 microseconds (1/5000th of a second) under ideal conditions.

NTP works within the TCP/IP suite and relies on UDP, time synchronisation with NTP is relatively simple, it synchronises time with reference to a reliable UTC source and then distributes this time to all machines and devices on a network.

Microsoft and others recommend that only external based timing should be used rather than Internet based, as these can’t be authenticated and can leave a system open to abuse, especially since an Internet timing source is beyond the firewall. Specialist NTP servers are available that can synchronise time on networks using either the MSF, DCF or WWVB radio transmission. These signals are broadcast on long wave by several national physics laboratories.

In the UK, the MSF national time and frequency radio transmissions used to synchronise an NTP server is broadcast by the National Physics Laboratory in Cumbria which serves as the United Kingdom’s national time reference, there are also similar systems in Colorado, US (WWVB) and in Frankfurt, Germany (DCF-77).

A radio based NTP server usually consists of a rack-mountable time server, and an antenna, consisting of a ferrite bar inside a plastic enclosure, which receives the radio time and frequency broadcast. The antenna should always be mounted horizontally at a right angle toward the transmission for optimum signal strength. Data is sent in pulses, 60 a second. These signals provides UTC time to an accuracy of 100 microseconds, however, the radio signal has a finite range and is vulnerable to interference.

A radio referenced NTP server is easily installed and can provide an organization with a precise time reference enabling the synchronization of entire networks. The NTP server will receive the time signal and then distribute it amongst the network devices.

History of Timekeeping from Stonehenge to the NTP Server

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Keeping track of time has been as integral part of helping human civilisation to develop. It could be argued that the greatest step that mankind took was in the development of farming, allowing humans to free up more time to develop sophisticated cultures.

However, farming was fundamentally reliant on timekeeping. Crops are seasonal and knowing when to plant them is the key to all horticulture. It is believed that ancient monuments such as Stonehenge were elaborate calendars helping the ancients to identify the shortest and longest days (solstice).

As human civilisation developed, telling increasingly accurate time became more and more important. And identifying days of the year was one thing but calculating how far into a day was another.

Timing was extremely inaccurate up until the middle ages. People would rely on comparisons of time as a time reference such as how long it took to walk a mile or the time of day would be estimated from when the sun was highest (noon).

Fortunately the development of clocks during the middle of the last millennium meant that for the first time humans could tell with some degree of precision the time of day. As clocks developed so did their accuracy and civilisation became more efficient as events could be more accurately synchronised.

When electronic clocks arrived at the turn of the last century, accuracy was further increased and new technologies started to develop but it wasn’t until the rise of the atomic clock that the modern world really took shape.

Atomic clocks have enabled technologies such as satellites, computer networks and GPS tracking possible as they are so accurate – to within a second every hundred million years.

The atomic clocks were even discovered to be even more accurate than the spin of the Earth that varies, thanks to the Moon’s gravity and extra seconds have to be added to the length of a day – The leap second.

Atomic clocks mean that a global timescale accurate to within a thousandth of second has been developed called UTC – Coordinated Universal Time.

Computer networks to communicate with each other from across the globe in perfect synchronisation to UTC if they use a NTP time server.

An NTP server will synchronise an entire computer network to within a few milliseconds of UTC time allowing global communications and transactions.

Atomic clocks are still being developed the latest strontium clocks are promising accuracy to within a second every billion years.

Time Server History and The changing ways of recording time

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The NTP server or network time server as it is often called is the culmination of centuries of horology and chronology. The history of keeping track of time has not been as smooth as you may think.

What month was the Russian October revolution? I’m sure you have guessed that it is a trick question, in fact if you trace the days back to the October revolution that changed the shape of Russia in 1917 you will find it didn’t start until November!

One of the first decisions the Bolsheviks, who had won the revolution, chose to make was to join the rest of eh world by taking up the Gregorian calendar. Russia was last to do adopt the calendar, which is still in use throughout the world today.

This new calendar was more sophisticated that the Julian calendar which most of Europe had been using since the Roman Empire. Unfortunately the Julian calendar did not allow for enough leap years and by the turn of the century this had meant that the seasons had drifted, so-much-so, that when Russia finally adopted the calendar on after Wednesday, 31 January 1918 the following day became Thursday, 14 February 1918.

So whilst the October revolution occurred in October in the old system, to the new Gregorian calendar it meant it had taken place in November.

Whilst the rest of Europe adopted this more accurate calendar earlier than the Russians they still also had to correct the seasonal drift, so in 1752 when Britain changed systems they lost eleven days which according to the populist painter of the time, Hogarth, caused rioters to demand the return of their lost eleven days.

This problem of inaccuracy in keeping track of time was thought to be solved in the 1950’s when the first atomic clocks were developed. These devices were so accurate that they could keep time for a million years without losing a second.

However, it was soon discovered that these new chronometers were in fact too accurate – compared with the Earth’s rotation anyway. The problem was that while atomic clocks could measure the length of a day to the nearest millisecond, a day is never the same length.

The reason being is that the Moon’s gravity affects the Earth’s rotation causing a wobble. This wobble has the effect of slowing down and speeding up the Earth’s spin. If nothing was done to compensate for this then eventually the time told by atomic clocks (International Atomic Time- TAI) and the time based on the Earth’s rotation used by farmers, astronomers and you and I (Greenwich Meantime- GMT) would drift that eventually noon would become midnight (albeit in many millennia).

The solution has been to devise a timescale that is based on atomic time but also accounts for this wobble of the Earth’s rotation. The solution was called UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) and accounts for the Earth’s variable rotation by having ‘leap seconds’ occasionally added. There have been over thirty leap seconds added to UTC since its inception in the 1970’s.

UTC is now a global timescale used throughout the world by computer networks to synchronise too. Most computer networks use a NTP server to receive and distribute UTC time.

Timescales of NTP and advanced time server information

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The NTP timescale is based on UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) which is a global civil timescale that is based on International Atomic Time (TAI) but accounts for the slowing of the Earth’s spin by intermittingly adding ‘leap seconds.’

This is done to ensure that UTC is kept in coincidence with GMT (Greenwich Meantime, often referred to as UT1). Failing to account for the Earth’s slowing in its rotation (and occasional speeding up) would mean that UTC would fall out of synchronisation with GMT and noon, when the sun is traditionally the highest in the sky would drift. In fact if leap seconds were not added eventually noon would fall at midnight and vice versa (albeit in several millennia).

Not everybody is happy with leap seconds, there are those that feel that adding of seconds to keep the Earth’s rotation and UTC inline is nothing but a fudge. However, failing to do so would make such things as astronomical observations impossible as astronomers need to know the exact positioning of the stellar bodies and farmers are pretty reliant on the Earth’s rotation too.

The NTP clock represents time in a totally different way to the way humans perceive time. Instead of formatting time into minutes, hours, days, months and years, NTP uses a continuous number that represents the number of seconds that have past since 0h 1 January 1900. This is known as the prime epoch.

The seconds counted from the prime epoch continue to rise but wraps around every 136 years. The first wrap-around will take place in 2036, 136 years since the prime epoch. To deal with this NTP will utilise an era integer, so when the seconds reset to zero, the integer 1 will represent the first era and negative integers represent the eras before the prime epoch.

Time servers that receive their time from the GPS system are not in fact receiving UTC, primarily because the GPS network was in development before the first leap second but they are based on TAI.  However, GPS time is converted to UTC by the GPS time server.

The radio transmission broadcast from national physics laboratories such as MSF, DCF or WWVB are all based on UTC and so the time servers do not need to do any conversion.