Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 12/26/2008 2:04:40 PM ET 2008-12-26T19:04:40

Wait a second.

The start of next year will be delayed by circumstances beyond everyone's control. Time will stand still for one second on New Year's Eve, as we ring in the New Year on that Wednesday night. As a result, you'll have an extra second to celebrate because a "Leap Second" will be added to 2008 to let a lagging Earth catch up to super-accurate clocks.

By international agreement, the world's timekeepers, in order to keep their official atomic clocks in step with the world's irregular but gradually slowing rotation, have decreed that a Leap Second be inserted between 2008 and 2009. 

The extra second, ordered by the world's nominal timekeeper, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, will be marked officially at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday in Greenwich, England, the home of what is popularly known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) – Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to the more technically inclined – the standard time for the planet.

So at precisely 23:59:60 at Greenwich, England, on New Year's Eve, there will be a one-second void before the onset of midnight and the start of the New Year. Wednesday will see the 24th Leap Second that has been needed since the practice was initiated in 1972, and will be the first in three years.

Keeping the Earth on time
Around the world, to satisfy the requirements of navigators, communication organizations and scientific groups, about 200 atomic clocks in over 50 national laboratories worldwide will be adjusted at local times corresponding to midnight to local times at Greenwich.  On New Year's Eve, the master clock at the United States Naval Observatory will be adjusted at 6:59:60 p.m. EST, or 23:59:60 GMT.

The extra second is needed to keep the world's clocks in time with the rotation of the planet.  Time measured by the rotation of the Earth is not uniform when compared to time kept by atomic clocks. Today's atomic clocks have an inaccuracy of less than one second in 200 million years.

But for various reasons – the sloshing molten core, the rolling of the oceans, the melting of polar ice and the effects of solar and lunar gravity – our planet rotates on its axis at irregular rates, and on average has been falling behind atomic time at a rate of about two milliseconds per day.  It now trails the official clock by about six-tenths of a second. 

As a result of this difference, atomic clocks can get out of sync with the Earth and periodically have to be adjusted.  Since it's the atomic clocks that are used to set all other clocks, a Leap Second has to be added from time to time to make up the difference. 

Adding the extra second between 23:59:59 on Dec. 31 and midnight on Jan. 1 will put Mother Earth about four-tenths of a second ahead of the clock, giving her a bit of a head start as 2009 begins.

Who said chivalry is dead?

How to see and hear the extra second
Today many retailers market radio clocks as "atomic clocks"; though the radio signals they receive usually come from true atomic clocks, they are not atomic clocks themselves. Typical radio "atomic clocks" require placement in a location with a relatively unobstructed atmospheric path to the transmitter, perform synchronization once a day during the night-time, and need reasonably good atmospheric conditions to receive the time signals.

If you own such a device, you might want to watch what your clock displays just before 0 hours GMT, Jan. 1, which corresponds to 7 p.m. Eastern standard time on Dec. 31. The minute beginning at 6:59 p.m. EST will contain 61 seconds.  When a Leap Second was added in 2005, I watched my own clock closely during that minute as the seconds ticked off.  When the final second of that minute was reached, the number "59" flashed not once, but twice!

Discovering ancient treasures from spaceIf you don't have a radio clock, you can bring up a time display on your computer by going to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Web site.

You can also listen for the Leap Second by tuning in to a shortwave time signal station.  In North America, the "extra tick" can be heard by listening either to station WWV out of Fort Collins, CO at 2.5, 5, 10, 15 and 20 megahertz or CHU in Ottawa, Canada at 3330, 7335, and 14670 kilohertz.  A listing of shortwave time signal stations for other parts of the world can be found here.

Should you encounter poor reception, try preparing a seconds pendulum by hanging a small weight on a string about 39.1 inches (99.3 centimeters) in length.  Adjust the string length beforehand until the swings exactly match the time signal ticks.  If the beeps denoting the start of each minute occur at the left extreme of a swing before the final (GMT) minute of 2008, they will be heard at the right extremes thereafter. (Although the swing amplitude will be steadily dying down, this does not affect a free pendulum's oscillation period.)

Ball Drop too early?
By the time the transition from 2008 to 2009 arrives in North America the Leap Second will have already been inserted into the world's timescale.

But there was a bit of confusion about all this back in 1972 when the first Leap Second to be inserted on a New Year's Eve took place.  An astronomer at New York's Hayden Planetarium took a phone call that day from the engineer who was assigned to drop the famous illuminated ball in Times Square (in those days, the ball was slowly lowered using an old fashioned rope and pulley).  "This can affect my job," he reportedly said.  "So I want to be sure I don't drop that thing one second too soon!"

Regardless of how you use your extra second, just keep this one indisputable fact in mind: Whenever you note the time on the clock, realize that it is now – right now – later than it has ever been.

Happy New Year!

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