Saturday, December 31, 2011

Measuring time

December 30, 2011 doesn't exist in the history of Samoa. The country chose to skip this day and went from Dec 29 straight to Dec 31. The reason is that they wanted to improve ties with major trade partners such as Australia and New Zealand by jumping over the International Date Line. Instead of 23 hours behind Auckland, Samoa is now one hour ahead.

The International Date Line is an imaginary line that designates the place where each calendar day begins. Crossing it eastbound or westbound would mean you lose or gain one day, respectively. It sounds familiar because people in many countries are used to losing one hour in spring and gaining it back in autumn.

All this skipping, leaping, and traveling back in time reminds me that the whole system of measuring time, or more precisely, marking time, is actually man-made. Time lapses. It does not bear absolute markers of the beginning or end of anything. But we found the natural cycles, and tried to organize time according to the cycles with a system called calendar. Most countries now use the Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. It is based on the natural cycles but there are still discrepancies:
- A Lunar month is about 29.53 days;
- A sidereal year (Earth's orbit cycle) is 365.256363004 mean solar days;
- A tropical year (a complete cycle of the seasons) is 365.24219 days.

There have been different proposals for reform of the calendar, such as the World Calendar, International Fixed Calendar and Holocene calendar. The UN considered briefly to adopt such a reform in the 1950s, but eventually all the proposals lost their popularity. Anyways... until any change happens, Happy New Year!


No comments: