The Bandera Courier
Bandera Courier
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2012-01-26

The idea of time

Feather Wilson

Time is an elusive notion.

The Earth spins around an axis at the same time it is spinning around the Sun. We measure time historically in terms of that spin around the axis.

Some years the spin slows down and other years, it speeds up. What a mess.

It turns out that the spin around the axis is somewhat irregular. Perhaps the melting of the ice at the poles creates a few problems when we now measure time in seconds. If politicians knew about it, they would blame each other.

We now have multiple atomic clocks that measure time via the atomic vibration of cesium atoms. The vibration of the cesium atom oscillates 9,192,631,770 times per second.

If we continued to measure time by the vibration of the cesium atom we might be way out of sync over hundreds of years.

Thus we invented leap seconds. Each year we either have to reset our atomic clocks either forward or backward depending upon the fickle Earth spin.

The dates we either set the atomic clocks forward or backward occur on Dec. 31 or June 30.

This not just an academic problem when one considers our modern global connections. What would the politicians do if they were late to a fund raiser?

Between January 2009 and July 2012 the ordinary clock times were 34 seconds off atomic time if leap seconds had not been added.

This year we will have to add two seconds to ordinary clocks on June 30, 2012.

This could add to real time problems over hundreds or thousands of years. We might be eating lunch at midnight.

You might have noticed when you wander through Walmart that you can purchase alarm clocks for about $20 that receive radio signals from Colorado that periodically correct spin time. They are called atomic alarm clocks. Everyone needs an atomic alarm clock. The battery operated clocks do not have bright red LED numbers, which is a drawback.

The politicians have suggested that we do away with leap seconds and just add leap hours every few hundred years. That way, they would never be late and they could blame it on someone else after they were dead.