Saturday, 31 December 2016

Time and Tide Wait for No Man

Here we are again on the last day of the year, looking back on the year past and forward to the next year. Some of us will be glad to see the end of 2016 and happy to see the start of a new year, while others will be cautious and perhaps nervous of what 2017 will bring. 

Of course, the concept of a "new year" is a purely man made notion to help us fix ourselves in time within days, weeks and months and likewise in hours, minutes, seconds and even nano seconds - which I understand is equal to one billionth of a second, one nano second being to one second as one second is to 31.7 years. At this point my mind boggles and fails to comprehend the enormity of "time" as we as humans on earth, know it.

Our idea of a month comes from the moon and many cultures over thousands of years have used months with lengths of 29 or 30 days to divide the year up into manageable pieces. With this system though, there is the problem of having moon cycles at 29.5 days not dividing equally into the 365.25 days of a year. Luckily, we have the rhyme to remind us of how many days are in each month :

 30 days hath September, April, June and November
 All the rest have 31, except for February alone
which has but 28 days clear
and 29 in a Leap Year.

Ok, it doesn't roll off the tongue too easily but its worth memorising  - while your memory still works a bit... and for when you  have forgotten where you put your diary. It's all well and good having a "planner" on your phone which records times, dates and events, but you can bet your life when you need to know the date, the app has mysteriously moved itself to another page or other not immediately accessible (to me) area of the device. 

This year, 2016 which was a leap year, is being stretched out a little further, with an extra second being added just before midnight. It's to regulate the Earth's rotation - which fluctuates - with the UK's timescale. Earth time, apparently, falls behind the atomic clocks kept by the National Physical Laboratory, that keep what is known as civil time and so an extra second is occasionally added to regulate atomic and astronomical time.

Peter Whibberley who is Senior Research Scientist in the Time & Frequency Group at NPL says :
"Atomic clocks are more than a million times better at keeping time than the rotation of the Earth, which fluctuates unpredictably.
Leap seconds are needed to prevent civil time drifting away from Earth time. Although the drift is small - taking around a thousand years to accumulate a one-hour difference - if not corrected, it would eventually result in clocks showing midday before sunrise."

Hmmm... ... ... 

So, as I write this, and time continues to flow (or is it us that are moving through time ?) the new year has already arrived in Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand where it is now 2017.I am grateful for the extra second to stabilise us, here though I wouldn't have known it was going to happen if I hadn't heard it on the news.

Here's hoping for a new year that will bring peace and stability to those in this world who are suffering in so many ways due to war, greed and power seeking. May the notion of equality and a caring society become not only a man made notion, but a reality, for all.

Happy New Year, 2017 

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