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Subdivisions of the second, such as millisecond (one thousandth of a second), and (although encountered less frequently in practice) multiples of the second, such as kilosecond (1,000 seconds), can be indicated by adding SI prefixes to second.
Under the International System of Units, the second is currently defined as the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom. This definition refers to a caesium atom at rest at a temperature of 0 K.
The international standard symbol for a second is s (see ISO 31-1).
Equivalence to other units of time Edit
1 international second is equal to:
- 1/60 minute (1 minute is equal to 60 seconds)
- 1/3,600 hour (1 hour is equal to 3,600 seconds)
- 1/86,400 day (1 day, in the sense of non-SI units accepted for use with the International System of Units, is equal to 86,400 seconds)
- 1/31,557,600 Julian year (1 year is the sense of non-SI units accepted for use with the International System of Units, is equal to 31,557,600 seconds)
Originally, the second was known as a "second minute", meaning the second minute (i.e. small) division of an hour. The first division was known as a "prime minute" and is equivalent to the minute we know today.
The factor of 60 comes from the Babylonians who used factors of 60 in their counting system. However, the Babylonians did not subdivide their time units sexagesimally (except for the day). The hour had been defined by the ancient Egyptians as either 1/12 of daytime or 1/12 of nighttime, hence both varied with the seasons. Hellenistic astronomers, including Hipparchus and Ptolemy, defined the hour as 1/24 of a mean solar day. Sexagesimally subdividing this mean solar hour made the second 1/86,400 of a mean solar day. Hellenistic time periods like the mean synodic month were usually specified quite precisely because they were calculated from carefully selected eclipses separated by hundreds of years—individual mean synodic months and similar time periods cannot be measured. Nevertheless, with the development of pendulum clocks keeping mean time (as opposed to the apparent time displayed by sundials), the second became measurable. The seconds pendulum was proposed as a unit of length as early as 1660 by the Royal Society of London. The duration of a beat or half period (one swing, not back and forth) of a pendulum one metre in length on the earth's surface is approximately one second.
In 1956 the second was defined in terms of the period of revolution of the Earth around the Sun for a particular epoch, because by then it had become recognized that the Earth's rotation on its own axis was not sufficiently uniform as a standard of time. The Earth's motion was described in Newcomb's Tables of the Sun, which provides a formula for the motion of the Sun at the epoch 1900 based on astronomical observations made between 1750 and 1892. The second thus defined is
This definition was ratified by the Eleventh General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1960. The tropical year in the definition was not measured, but calculated from a formula describing a tropical year which decreased linearly over time, hence the curious reference to a specific instantaneous tropical year. Because this second was the independent variable of time used in ephemerides of the Sun and Moon during most of the twentieth century (Newcomb's Tables of the Sun were used from 1900 through 1983, and Brown's Tables of the Moon were used from 1920 through 1983), it was called the ephemeris second.
With the development of the atomic clock, it was decided to use atomic clocks as the basis of the definition of the second, rather than the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.
Following several years of work, two astronomers at the United States Naval Observatory (USNO) and two astronomers at the National Physical Laboratory (Teddington, England) determined the relationship between the hyperfine transition frequency of the caesium atom and the ephemeris second. Using a common-view measurement method based on the received signals from radio station WWV, they determined the orbital motion of the Moon about the Earth, from which the apparent motion of the Sun could be inferred, in terms of time as measured by an atomic clock. As a result, in 1967 the Thirteenth General Conference on Weights and Measures defined the second of atomic time in the International System of Units (SI) as
- the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom.
The ground state is defined at zero magnetic field. The second thus defined is equivalent to the ephemeris second.
The definition of the second was later refined at the 1997 meeting of the BIPM to include the statement
- This definition refers to a caesium atom at rest at a temperature of 0 K.
In practice, this means that high-precision realizations of the second should compensate for the effects of the ambient temperature (black-body radiation) within which atomic clocks operate to extrapolate to the value of the second as defined above. Furthermore, it indicates that the ultimate atomic clock would contain a single caesium atom at rest emitting a single frequency.