New postby Fortunat Mueller-Maerki » Thu Oct 16, 2008 2:05 pm

This entry is largely taken from information at

The second (SI symbol: s), sometimes abbreviated sec., is the name of a unit of time, and is the International System of Units (SI) base unit of time

SI prefixes are frequently combined with the word second to denote subdivisions of the second, e.g., the millisecond (one thousandth of a second) and nanosecond (one billionth of a second). Though SI prefixes may also be used to form multiples of the second (such as “kilosecond,” or one thousand seconds), such units are rarely used in practice. More commonly encountered, non-SI units of time such as the minute, hour, and day increase by multiples of 60 and 24 (rather than by powers of ten as in the SI system).

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.

Originally the second was defined as 1/86420 of a solar day (60x60X24), but of course the time between two noons varies enormously in the course of a year (Equation of time), so it was specifed as 1/86420 of a mean solar day, but eventually it became clear that the mean solar day has variations as well.

In 1956 the second was defined in terms of the period of revolution of the Earth around the Sun (i.e. as a fraction of the solar year) 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.[9] The second thus defined is

the fraction 1/31,556,925.9747 of the tropical year for 1900 January 0 at 12 hours ephemeris time.

Language wise 'second' is derived from the fact that the second is the 2nd sexagesimal division (i.e. divided by 60) of the hour (the minute being the 1st).

The second first became accurately measurable with the development of pendulum clocks keeping mean time (as opposed to the apparent time displayed by sundials), specifically in 1670 when William Clement added a seconds pendulum to the original pendulum clock of Christian Huygens.[8] The seconds pendulum has a period of two seconds, one second for a swing forward and one second for a swing back, enabling the longcase clock incorporating it to tick seconds. From this time, a second hand that rotated once per minute in a small subdial began to be added to the clock faces of precision clocks.

SI multiples for second (s)
Value Symbol Name


1/10th s ds decisecond
1/100th s cs centisecond
1/1000th s ms millisecond
1/1 000 000th s µs microsecond
1/1000 000000 s ns nanosecond
10^–12 s ps picosecond
10^–15 s fs femtosecond
10^–18 s as attosecond
10^–21 s zs zeptosecond
10^–24 s ys yoctosecond

10 s das decasecond
100 s hs hectosecond
1000 s ks kilosecond
1000 000 s Ms megasecond
1 000 000 000 s Gs gigasecond
1 000000 000000 s Ts terasecond
10^15 s Ps petasecond
10^18 s Es exasecond
10^21 s Zs zettasecond
10^24 s Ys yottasecond

Common prefixes are in bold
Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
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