Navel gazing can be a satisfying pastime, but when seconds count, I like to focus my gaze on the U.S. Naval Observatory instead. This will be especially important as the wee hours of Wednesday give way to Thursday, because that's when an extra second will be shoveled into the Furnace of Time, thereby providing just enough thrust to keep our planet from grinding to a halt before breakfast.
Although the International Earth Rotation Service is ultimately responsible for deciding whether or not to throw another second into the fire, it's Father Time who has to do the actual work. He lives on a small boat at the U.S. Naval Observatory, so that's where the sacrifice is performed. This way, he can paddle out onto the ocean at a moment's notice and tell Poseidon to quit slamming on the brakes, since that's what's slowing us down in the first place.
The Earth is constantly undergoing a deceleration caused by the braking action of the tides. Through the use of ancient observations of eclipses, it is possible to determine the average deceleration of the Earth to be roughly 1.4 milliseconds per day per century. This deceleration causes the Earth's rotational time to slow with respect to the atomic clock time.
The sacrifice will commence just before midnight (UTC) on New Year's Eve, and should be all but over by the time 2009 rolls around, give or take a couple seconds. If you happen to be watching, you'll see that the leap second is glued to the end of the last second of the old year, which isn't at all the same as grafting it to the first second of the new year.
31 DEC 2008 23 HOURS 59 MINUTES 59 SECONDS31 DEC 2008 23 HOURS 59 MINUTES 60 SECONDS01 JAN 2009 00 HOURS 00 MINUTES 00 SECONDS
Here, I'm reminded of the words of my great-uncle's niece, on my mother's side, who always seemed to have a way of making a long story short . . .
He who leaps first leaps loudest, but second fiddle can't hold a candle to Father Time.
. . . which, I think, simply means that Poseidon is a lousy driver.