Our Fickle Relative

What Time Is It?
What time is it? Ha! It depends upon the clock! It is possible for the clock to be correct only once per year. Maybe even longer. 

Let’s say that our clock is just slightly off, off by milliseconds. It could take a full year or more, before the clock correctly tells the time. Well, that makes perfect sense. The question is, compared to what? Technically a clock is always right to itself.

Does the universe have a consistent clock? Is there a standard ticking something someplace that we can make a comparison?

We divide time using a standard that depends upon a full rotation of the earth. One day is sunrise to sunrise. Minutes and seconds are merely divisions of that rotation. 

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that time measure is most certainly relative. How long is a day on a giant planet like Jupiter?

A day on Jupiter is the same, one full rotation. Or is it? The planetsforkids.org website gives this table for kids to ponder. 
Mercury – 58 days and 15 hours

Venus – 243 Earth days

Earth – 23 hours and 56 minutes

Mars – 24 hours 39 minutes and 35 seconds

Jupiter – 9.9 Earth hours

Saturn – 10 hours 39 minutes and 24 seconds

Uranus – 17 hours 14 minutes and 24 seconds

Neptune – 16 hours 6 minutes and 36 seconds

No planet agrees to the 24 hour standard. We don’t even agree to a 24 hour standard. Our Earth spins only 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds for a complete rotation. 

Wait a minute, uh ur, wait a second… um, Stop! I thought that a day was a complete rotation, and that we based our clocks in 24 hours? Well, that is true, except that it was a guess when we first considered measuring devices. Now we can measure things much more accurately, and it turns out that the Earth is slower than our clock. 

My first thought is… WTF? Who is the primary actor? Why don’t we recalibrate our clocks to match what we know as a “day”. Apparently we have determined that our “guess” is better than our reality. My head hurts when I ponder this, and the consequences that follow from it.

There are consequences, we adapt by creating a leap year, adding an extra day every four years. We actually say that we have an extra day! Where did it come from? Poof! Out of the cosmos another day comes by, like some sort of orbiting comet?

Okay, okay, time is a slippery concept. Apparently science can only grasp time in terms of using two separate theories in physics. Time viewed by a long distance perspective is best understood by E=mc2. Time in sub-atomic terms is better viewed by theories in quantum mechanics. 

As an example, quantum mechanics tells us that time is altered by merely bringing in a measurement. What? 

It’s like time is a squirmy child. He is a certain height, but as soon as you bring a ruler to him, you can’t be sure that his height is accurate. 

Time is certainly fickle. Not relative, we are talking just plain fickle, like a squirmy child. 

I keep going back to the classic standard. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, that’s a far better ratio than a clock that is slightly slow. 

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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