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Residents party to capture a special moment

Celebration marks the leap second, which is needed to synchronize Earth’s rotation with calendar

Posted: July 1, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 1, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Skip Newhall points to a clock that reads 23:59:60 universal time at his home in Valencia on Sunday during a leap second party. Timekeepers added the extra second, at 4:59:60 local time Saturday, to keep clocks accurate.

 

 It was a wrinkle in time that went unnoticed by most Santa Clarita Valley residents.

But at the Valencia home of Skip Newhall, it was the best of times — or at least a good time for a party.

Newhall hosted a “leap second” party Saturday to celebrate the moment when 4:59:59 p.m. became 4:59:60 p.m., rather than 5:00:00 p.m.

Some 25 friends and family members crowded around a stack of precision time instruments counting down to the extra second added to the 4 o’clock hour.

“A leap year keeps the calendar in sync with the Earth’s rotation since the calendar is a little faster,” explained Newhall. “A leap second is the same thing on a smaller scale.”

Leap seconds happen irregularly, but usually occur once every three and a half years, Newhall said.

The retired astronomer has a taste for the precise; he spent 35 years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena using lasers to measure the distance between the moon and Earth.

“He goes for the unusual and bizarre,” confided brother Tony Newhall.

The leap second doesn’t come without its own controversy. In 2015, the International Astronomical Union will consider instituting a leap minute in lieu of leap seconds.

Leap minute and leap second factions have formed, Skip Newhall said, and both believe time is on their side.

Valencia resident Scott Perrigo, 30, didn’t know what a leap second was until neighbor Skip invited him over.

“I thought it was just an excuse to have a party,” Perrigo said.

 Click here for more pictures.

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