Time Daylight Savings and the Prime Meridian
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Time Daylight Savings and the Prime Meridian

Daylight Savings Time is the semi-annual ritual where we will look for the time and become convinced that time is really interesting. This article will show you that it actually is interesting.

The use of time is an odd thing. Time itself exists, but it does not exist...at the same time. Everyone values time, but we also enjoy wasting time. Time is money, and time is unending. So now that we have contradicted the entire process, what is the deal with time, then?

Time on its own exists as a force for measurement, but that is its only quantifiable means. You cannot hold time, pour a cup of it nor cut out two feet of it. It can be measured, using a variety of instruments, and the most common of which, the clock, is in nearly every household throughout the world.

As a measure of the day, using minutes, hours and days, time is relative to the person taking the measurement. To accommodate this fluctuation in measurement, modern man has developed time zones as a means to counter-balance the relativity portion. As the day is divided in 24 equally spaced hours, the globe is divided into roughly 24 time zones.

The time zones around the globe are not equal, and to be fair, there are actually more time zones than just 24. Some countries choose to use a half-hour time zone which makes their time 10:30 while their neighbors are at 10:00. Other areas will even use 15 minute time zones, all of which is decided by the national ruling authority for that particular nation. In this sense, time is a very "personal" thing for any particular nation, and no nation likes to be told what time it should be.

So how did this get started? Blame England. According to Greenwich-guide.org.uk, the Royal Observatory was established in 1675 to study the Prime Meridian and set the standard for British nautical navigation. Later, in 1884, during a conference in Washington, D.C., it was suggested that the Prime Meridian should be established in Greenwich, England, since 75% of the maritime traffic of the world used that meridian as their point of reference. The French agreed, but only if England started using the metric system. This bickering would continue until 1978.

Time was based off of the time in Greenwich, England, as a matter of reducing confusion. Using the Prime Meridian as a means to anchor time to a specific point is important in navigation, since the degrees of latitude or longitude are divided into minutes and seconds. In theory, the earth should rotate an equal distance each second, as well as minute, so that each hour of the day is equal to 15 degrees travelled around the globe, leaving you 24 individual time zones.

But not everything works like it should. Due to actual differences in density and land form in the earth, it does not spin as smoothly as a globe in a vacuum should, so a more precise means of measurement was needed. In 1967, scientists came together and developed Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, as the time all nations should use as the source, and to get over the imperfections of the planet, they would use a Ceasium-133 radiation as a means of measuring time. The resonant frequency of the atom allows sophisticated measurement equipment to determine the number of oscillations in a given time period, that is defined as a second. In other words, it vibrates the same every time, and a second is determined to have passed when you count enough vibrations. According to the U.S. Naval Observatory Master Clock, one second is equal to about 9,162,631,770 cycles of radiation of the Ceasium-133 atom.

With time established, and a centralized, agreed-upon framework in place, we can all get by in our daily activities, right? Not just yet. UTC allows us to organize things on a much more grand scale than ever before. For instance, the United States Air Force sends aircraft around the globe every day. These aircraft deliver supplies and personnel, but they also require maintenance and other support. Not to mention that as these aircraft fly through various countries, the permission required to enter those countries is all based on time. All countries and support activities used by, or working with, the U.S. Air Force work together by using UTC. By organizing and coordinating along this timeframe, it eliminates confusion as to which time zone is required. Nothing could be more simple, right?

Oh, and by the way, March 14th was daylight savings time (DST) in the United States, so make sure you move your clock forwards one hour this morning. And, no, not everyone recognizes DST, and UTC never changes with DST.

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