Monday, November 14, 2005

Changing Greenwich Mean Time

I found the following article in Saturday's Guardian (12.11.05) by Kate Ravilious. The title cought my eye and reminded me of a time when I too was a young timekeeper, aspiring to change Greenwich Mean Time, though on a much more absurd level. I added some comments in brackets.

Why do Americans want to get rid of Greenwich Mean Time?

No one seems to know. Perhaps it's because Greenwich is in the UK and not the US (Is their a better reason?). At a time-keeping meeting (The only meeting in the world that nobody is late for) being held in Geneva this week, scientists from the US proposed changing the current system to make the meridian line become irrelevant.

The idea has some valid reasoning. As the Earth gets older its rotation keeps slowing down slightly. To keep our clocks in sync with the rest of the solar system, timekeepers add a second every 18 months or so (How does one become a timekeeper? Does every country have one?). The next "leap" second will be added at midnight on New Years Eve this year. This means that our clocks are regulated to the pace of the spinning Earth and the Sun always rises in the morning and sets in the evening. The Americans suggest that we drop the leap seconds and just let time tick away (But what will happen to all the timekeepers?!).

"The US haven't given a specific reason (They don't have to, they're the US! ), but it may be because it is difficult to add leap seconds to some computer systems," says Stuart Pollitt, from the National Physical Laboritory. Computer programmers probably see it easier to get rid of the leap second (I knew Bill Gates was behind this). For astronomers tracking distant galaxies this would be disastrous. They rely on extremely precise clocks to cooridinate signals from telescopes all over the world. Day and night might take on a different meaning for future generations. "Over many many years time would lose sync with Earth, meaning that the Sun would not necessarily be highest in the sky at noon," says Pollitt. (Except for people arranging duels, fights and shootouts at high noon, how disastrous could this be?)

As Ever,


Blogger Dave said...

I seem to remember reading about the leap second in Discover magazine. I think what this would affect most is the infinity clock being built here in the US by the guy who invented the super computer. He's working on a completely mechanical clock which will keep track of time for ten thousand years, included in this would be the largest scope and smallest increments. It will even keep track of the positions of the planets in our solar system. Without the leap second his ten year quest to build the ultimate clock could crumble. Egads!

Monday, November 21, 2005 2:31:00 PM  
Blogger Erasmus said...

I'm telling you the world is crying out for "cigarette time". Ross, you must let the world know your wonderful if albeit absurd idea for time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 8:35:00 AM  

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