UTC (Coordinated Universal Time)

Coordinated Universal Time (abbreviated to UTC) is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is within about 1 second of mean solar time at 0° longitude, and is not adjusted for daylight saving time. In some countries where English is spoken, the term Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is often used as a synonym for UTC and predates UTC by nearly 300 years.

The first Coordinated Universal Time was informally adopted on 1 January 1960 and was first officially adopted as CCIR Recommendation 374, Standard-Frequency and Time-Signal Emissions, in 1963, but the official abbreviation of UTC and the official English name of Coordinated Universal Time (along with the French equivalent) were not adopted until 1967.

The system has been adjusted several times, including a brief period where time coordination radio signals broadcast both UTC and “Stepped Atomic Time (SAT)” before a new UTC was adopted in 1970 and implemented in 1972. This change also adopted leap seconds to simplify future adjustments. This CCIR Recommendation 460 “stated that (a) carrier frequencies and time intervals should be maintained constant and should correspond to the definition of the SI second; (b) step adjustments, when necessary, should be exactly 1 s to maintain approximate agreement with Universal Time (UT); and (c) standard signals should contain information on the difference between UTC and UT.”

A number of proposals have been made to replace UTC with a new system that would eliminate leap seconds. A decision whether to remove them altogether has been deferred until 2023.

The current version of UTC is defined by International Telecommunications Union Recommendation (ITU-R TF.460-6), Standard-frequency and time-signal emissions, and is based on International Atomic Time (TAI) with leap seconds added at irregular intervals to compensate for the slowing of the Earth’s rotation. Leap seconds are inserted as necessary to keep UTC within 0.9 seconds of the UT1 variant of universal time. See the “Current number of leap seconds” section for the number of leap seconds inserted to date.

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