Grist to the Mill

08 December, 2005


There are different indices of time according to which part of the planet we reside in. Everyone know this. Right now, in England, we're in Greenwich Mean Time. I often wonder how much trouble it causes flight schedulers when the clocks move forwards and backwards from (British) Summer Time to GMT. Most countries observe daily saving time - Russia follows it and changes its clocks on the same weekend that we do. Some other countries save their hour on a different weekend, however, while a few places don't bother with it at all. I used to have to change all the digital clocks on the trading floor of a brokerage - unfortunately, they were all interconnected. It wasn't my favourite task... Brazil, I recall, makes its changes on a different weekend to the majority of countries. It must surely be a far more complex operation for flight timetablers and air-traffic controllers though.

I suppose more people must be familiar with the acronyms because of the rise of email and the way many services are hosted in the US. Some programmes are set to Eastern Standard Time, others are in Mountain Standard Time, etc.

What I love, though, is the existence of something called UT - 'Universal Time'. An astrologer told me this a few months ago. If all the world's astrologers want to observe, say, something to do with Saturn's rings (assuming the hemisphere doesn't affect its visibility), the phenomena is described in terms of Universal Time. Luckily for us, this is the same as GMT. There is some confusion about the exact distinction between the two and it's something incredily complicated concerning physics. (Roughly speaking, GMT is more concerned with the Sun's motion while UT considers the earth's crust. I think.) It amounts to the same thing, in practice.

But doesn't Universal Time sound less like a measure for people in different places on earth and more like a standard for beings in different parts of the universe? Thus, if there's something exciting happening in deep space, earthlings, martians, and any other extra terrestrial critters can all synchronise their watches and take to their telescopes at the same time.

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