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30 JUNE 2015

Q&A on MALAYSIAN STANDARD TIME and LEAP SECOND

(with Senior Principal Metrologist, National Metrology Dr. Mohd. Nasir Zainal Abidin

Question 1: Can you share with us about the Malaysian Standard Time?

The Malaysian Standard Time is the local atomic time scale which is established and maintained by the Time and Frequency Laboratory of the National Metrology Laboratory, or mainly known as NML, SIRIM Berhad. It is the local representation of the universal coordinated time or simply called UTC with an addition of 8 hours. Our time is UTC+8 hours as decided by the Government. NML-SIRIM is the appointed national timekeeper (this can be referred to Cabinet Note H 226/92), from the caesium atomic clocks that it maintained.

The time is determined with the similar practices and processes done by other international timing laboratories, where the clocks’ data are submitted daily to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, or globally known as BIPM. Being a member of the BIPM helps a lot, since the performance, accuracy and stability of Malaysia Standard Time is computed from the International Atomic Timescale, aggregated and based, on all the atomic clocks belonging to other timing laboratories and the derived Universal Coordinated Time (UTC). BIPM monthly publication of Circular-T provides the details of the computation for each laboratory and is used to evaluate the performance of the time dissemination services. NML provides time services such as Network Time Protocol service, Precise Time Protocol service and even Malaysia Standard Time display through the website, http://mst.sirim.my.

The services are available free of charge and are currently being used mainly by government departments, institutions, companies and the general public that have networks and servers. Looking at the network time protocol server’s logs, we do have international users. At the moment, we do not have an off-air or transmitted radio time signals services.

Question 2: When was NML-SIRIM assigned as the National Time Keeper and how does the observation done?

In 1992, NML-SIRIM acquired its first set of caesium atomic clocks for the purpose of frequency measurement and calibration. Since the International Unit for time-interval, which is the second, is defined by the atomic transition of the caesium atoms and the atomic clocks have the unprecedented stabilities of about one second drift in the period of 30,000 years, NML-SIRIM became the obvious choice to be the National Timekeeper. It was given the responsibility the government on August 5th 1992.

Back then, the activities were more on determining the time and establishing the local atomic timescale. Since Malaysia was not a member of the Metre Convention, our clocks data were not part of the contribution for the international atomic timescale that establishes the UTC.

We were fortunate that Australia national laboratory helped us in developing a special time and frequency transfer receiver that observes the signal transmitted by the global positioning system (GPS) satellites and extracts the 1 pulse per second signal from it. This is the signal that we compare against the 1 pulse per second signal from the local atomic timescale. The clocks comparison data are sent to the BIPM. Since 2001, when Malaysia signed the Metre Convention, we are part of the international timing laboratories that contribute to the computation of the international atomic timescale and the UTC. At the moment, we operate two time and frequency transfer receivers for the purpose of local UTC representation and atomic timescale comparisons.

 

Question 3: 30 June 2015, will witness 61 seconds instead of 60 seconds. As a time keeper, can you please explain why we are facing such phenomenon?

To answer this question satisfactorily, I have to go back in time. For thousands of years, the “clock” that consists of the Earth and the Sun was sufficient to regulate daily activities.

The spin of the Earth on its axis provides us the day and its rotation around the Sun provides us the solar year. Both properties provide the ingredients for a clock. Furthermore, the Earth-Sun clock meets many of the most exacting requirements that the scientific community today makes for an acceptable standard:

Timekeeping is basically a system of counting these cycles, sunrise to sunrise, noon to noon, or sunset to sunset.

However, there are four factors that we have to look at very carefully:

  1. The Earth’s orbit around the Sun is not a perfect circle but is elliptical, so the Earth travels faster when it is nearer the Sun than when it is farther away.
  2. The Earth’s axis is tilted to the plane containing its orbit around the Sun.
  3. The Earth spins at an irregular rate around its axis of rotation.
  4. The Earth wobbles on its axis.

 

Factors 1 and 2 cause the day to be measured to differ in time about 15 minutes a day in February and November.

Gradually the Earth-Sun clock as time scales for measuring short time intervals that the Solar Time represented by the Earth-Sun clock had to be “corrected”. 1 and 2 can be mathematically predicted and corrected. Factors 3 and 4 need to be measured.

Although, we can safely say that Earth-Sun clock is forgotten, there are communities that still uses it for astronomy, geodesy and for long data series when making observations over long period of time such as in pulsars observations. The corrected solar time is known as the Universal Time or termed as UT1. As BIPM is responsible for the International Atomic Timescale, another body known as the International Earth Rotation and Reference System Service or IERS is responsible for the UT1 timescale or generally known as astronomical time.

 

Question 4: When did this ‘leap second’ started and when was the last time it occurs?

Because of the smoothness with which the caesium resonator “ticks,” the definition of the second based on astronomical observation was abandoned in 1967, and the second was redefined as the duration of 9 192 631 770 vibrations of the caesium atom. And in 1972, the International Telecommunication Union or ITU, whose main responsibility is to manage the frequency spectrum and allocate frequency for time code or signal transmission defined the UTC in the Recommendation ITU-R TF.460-6. To ensure approximate agreement with UT1, UTC is adjusted by insertion and deletion of seconds, on in other words, positive or negative leap seconds. Whenever, the difference between UTC and UT1 approaches 0.9 s, UTC is adjusted. To date, there have been 25 leap seconds inserted to the UTC. The last insertion (leap second) was made on June 30, 2012 (Saturday).

 

Question 5: How do we observe this leap second? Do we need to adjust our watch? How about other telecommunication devices like hand phones, and computers?

For the layman or generally public, this leap second might not be of interest at all. We are all guilty of neglecting minutes or hours, so this leap second has no immediate meaning. The same is also true for our watches or clocks. As for telecommunication devices such as hand phones, the time will be synchronized to the time servers that probably have software to take care of the leap second. The same goes for interconnected or networked computers. It is only critical on servers.

 

Questions 6: We are talking about one second, what can happen in that one second?

As I have said earlier, one leap second insertion might not be significant to most people on Earth, but this is considered as a very important issue leading to the World Radio Conference in Geneva, in November this year. The issue is that many establishments are hoping to see it abolish. The question is how to decouple the atomic timescale from the astronomical time and what will be the future timescale. In Malaysia, although NML-SIRIM is responsible for the atomic timescale and Malaysia Standard Time, it is Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission that will make the decision for Malaysia on the future of time.

As for what can happen, this coming leap second on June 30, 2015 will take place on a “normal” business day. Previously June 30, 2012 took place on Saturday and July 1, 2012 was a Sunday. Even so, globally, about 10% of the network time protocol servers got it wrong. Most servers were fixed within an hour, but some took a day. Some added the leap second on the wrong day. In Australia, the extra second affected flight check-ins and hit popular websites including Yelp and Foursquare. In Japan, various systems suspension and disruption occurred. As a positive leap second will be introduced at the end of June 2015, and in Japan it will be at 9:00 am on July 1, where it is Wednesday and throughout the country it is the start time for the general businesses.

 

Questions 7: Will there be any organisations that will be badly affected by the leap second?

Online businesses, network systems, internet service providers, digital time notary services and applications such MySQL, Hadoop, Cassandra are just few examples. Some services are taking steps to suspend or cease operations a few hours before and after the services. It is hard to state this accurately because not much was reported. However, the problem due to the slowing rotation of the Earth and leap second insertion to the UTC must not be ignored, since there are tremendous amount of business transactions that can take place in a second. Furthermore, transactions are not confined to a single time zone.

 

Question 8: When will be the next leap second?

The IERS, through their network of observatories and very long baseline interferometry stations, will decide and issue the bulletin for leap second insertion, the more immediate issue this year is for the global community to decide to whether or not to decouple the smoothness of the atomic timescale from the irregular rotation of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. It will be a brave decision. So far nothing solid have been proposed or accepted.

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SOAL-JAWAB MENGENAI SAAT LOMPAT (BAHASA MALAYSIA)

 

Soalan 1: Apakah peranan SIRIM dalam fenomena Saat Lompat ini?

SIRIM dalam fungsinya sebagai National Timekeeper atau Pengendali Waktu Standard Kebangsaan akan melaksanakan sebagaimana yang dituntut oleh Badan Antarabangsa yang menentukan Waktu Sejagat Antarabangsa iaitu International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) untuk memasukkan 1 saat ke dalam Waktu Standard Malaysia. Hal ini dilakukan oleh semua makmal waktu negara-negara lain terutama negara-negara yang mengasaskan waktu menggunakan jam atomik.

 

Soalan 2: Bagaimana pertambahan satu saat ini diuruskan SIRIM?

Pertambahan satu saat ini telah diprogramkan di dalam jam-jam atomik dengan menjadualkan pada waktu UTC 23:59:59 dan UTC 23:59:60 pada hari 30 Jun 2015 bersamaan dengan pukul 7:59:59 pada pagi hari 1 Julai 2015. Urusan ini telah pun dijadualkan dan disediakan.

 

Soalan 3: Adakah waktu standard Malaysia akan menerima kesan?

Kesan yang diterima hanyalah pertambahan satu saat sebagaimana yang dilakukan pada tahun 2012 dan sebelumnya. Sehingga kini sudah 25 saat lompat yang dimasukkan ke dalam Waktu Standard Malaysia berbanding dengkan Skala Waktu Astronomi UT1.

 

Soalan 4: Adakah rakyat Malaysia perlu risau wujudnya impak yang signifikan?

Bagi rakyat Malaysia yang menggunakan jam atau jam tangan impak yang signifikan tidak ada. Jam-jam selain jam atomik tidak tepat untuk melihat kesan satu saat tersebut. Jam-jam yang ada pada telefon bimbit mungkin telah diambilkira penambahan ini oleh server yang dikendalikan oleh syarikat komunikasi. Yang menjadi kebimbangan adalah aplikasi yang menggunakan waktu sebagai pengukur atau pelaksanaan sesuatu sistem yang sensitif kepada waktu. Kebanyakan aplikasi tidak memahami kenapa perlu ada dua peristiwa yang sama dalam waktunya. Aplikasi waktu selalunya bertambah tiap-tiap saat. Kali ini seolah-olah aplikasi akan melihat waktu yang sama berulang dua kali.

 

Soalan 5: Industri mana yang akan menerima impak? (Difahamkan industri seperti kewangan, berasaskan IT, industri yang bergantung kepada perisisian komputer akan terjejas?

Kebanyakan aplikasi yang dikendalikan sebagaimana penerangan di dalam soalan 4, akan terjejas jika sesuatu saat berulang. Ini kadang-kadang mendatangkan respons seperti terhentinya aplikasi sebagaimana yang dialami oleh sistem penerbangan Qantas (sistem pengendalian check-in) pada tahun 2012 (Jun 30, 2012 (Sabtu) dan Julai 1, 2012 (Ahad)). Sistem-sistem di mana ukuran saat dipecahkan ke milli saat atau mikro saat akan menerima impak, sebagaimana sistem yang dikendalikan oleh industri maritim, perbankan, penerbangan, mencari dan menyelamat dan juga penyediaan notary digital. Lebih membimbangkan pada tahun ini, saat lompat akan dimasukkan ke dalam waktu standard pada hari bekerja, iaitu 30 Jun 2015 (Selasa) dan 1 Julai 2015 (Rabu). Perkara ini amat membimbangkan kerana lazimnya saat lompat dimasukkan dalam waktu standard pada 31 Disember yang mana 1 Januari adalah cuti umum.

 

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About SIRIM Berhad

A wholly-owned company of the Malaysian Government under the Minister of Finance Incorporated, SIRIM Berhad is a premier Research and Technology organisation providing timely and focused research in three flagship areas namely Energy and Environment, Medical Technology as well as Plant and Machinery. SIRIM Berhad is also the champion of Quality and has gained international recognition in Standards and Conformity Assessment, underlying its mission of “being a total solution provider in quality and technology innovations.” www.sirim.my

 

About NML-SIRIM

 

The National Metrology Laboratory, SIRIM (NML-SIRIM) has been mandated by the National Measurement System Act 2007 (Act 675) to coordinate the National Measurement System and enhancing confidence of measurement practices in the country. NML-SIRIM is also appointed as the custodian and competent laboratory by various stakeholders and government agencies, among them:

 

 

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