Maximus Marcus Scaeva


Short stories, notes & alike by my alter ego. Published content is licensed under CC-BY-SA.

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UTC is enough, or is it?

Time I recently came across this question in a blog post about Programming time, dates, timezones, recurring events, leap seconds... and started to wonder what if.

What if one lives in Zulu time?

Now to clarify, I am not writing about moving to a different country - although I am - but rather to change all clocks to UTC time no matter the time zone you are in. I am as well not going to focus on the programming aspect since I am not a programmer but rather what if there were no time zones and only UTC (Zulu timea).

After all our clocks just show a bunch numbers, right?

First, let's look back in history.

  • Calendar Some 30 000 years ago in today's France and Germany, the Aurignacian Culture - Early Modern Day Humans - used moon phases to record time. They also gave us the earliest Lunar Calendar ever found.
  • The terms "month" and "year" were eventually given by European ice-age hunters observing the moon phases and counting the days between them with scratched lines and gouged holes in sticks or bones 20 000 years ago.
  • Around 4 500BCE, Sumerians had a calendar that divided the year into 30 day months, divided the day into 12 periods, and divided these periods into 30 parts. These 12 periods and 30 parts correspond to 2 of our hours and 4 of our minutes each respectively.
  • Stonehenge's purposes apparently included the determination of seasonal or celestial events, such as lunar eclipses, solstices et cetera based on its alignment. Unfortunately there is no written record of it but it appears to have been built over 4 000 years ago.
  • 3 100BCE is the earliest year recorded in history with 365 days by the Egyptians. They devised this 365 day calendar when they realized the "Dog Star" or Sirius in Canis Major rose next to the sun every 365 days.
  • Babylonians adopted their arithmetic of 60 probably because of the many divisors - e.g. the zodiac cycle of 12 constellations. They based the adoption of 360 days for a year on the sun's movement at about 1 degree each day relative to fixed stars and their existing mathematics ca. 1 600BCE.
  • Between 2 600BCE and 1 500CE the Mayans had two calendars. One based on the sun & moon and the one on the planet Venus to establish 260 day and 365 day calendars. This spread across Central America reaching their apex between 250 and 900CE. Presently, we have the 365 day solar calendar with a leap year every four years.

That was quite a journey so far but history holds way more than that.

Egypt Obelisk Unfortunately the Sumerian culture was lost including their knowledge but the Egyptians followed suit in dividing their days into parts. An obelisk's moving shadow formed a kind of sundial determining morning or afternoon and the year's longest and shortest days. More subdivisions of time were marked around the base of the monument. Over the centuries sundials evolved into various forms for better accuracy.
Sundials, however, weren't very effective at night. Thus water clocks were among the earliest timekeepers that didn't depend on the observation of celestial bodies and could determine the hours at night by either water dripping out of a small hole at the bottom of a vessel or cylindrical or bowl-shaped containers filling with water at a somewhat constant rate.
Later on mechanized - The Tower of the Winds - combined a sundial and a 24 hour mechanized water clock. It also displayed the seasons of the year and astrological dates/periods.

Water is naturally difficult to control and the sun is not very accurate and doesn't shine at night, not much happened until the 14th century in Europe. Yes, we just jumped continents and about a millennium.

Tower Clock The first mechanical clock was recorded in a church in Italy around 1309. Whereas the oldest still working clock in the world is in Salisbury Cathedral from 1386. We have no prior evidence of working models to these clocks, which were weight-driven with a verge-and-foliot escapement. These clocks still weren't very accurate.
Christiaan Huygens introduced the pendulum and a clock's margin of error dropped to 1 minute a day at first and was later reduced to 10 seconds a day. In the early 1700s George Graham improved the accuracy to 1 second a day. Though all of these clocks were still set using sundials. By the way, the cuckoo clock was invented ~1775, the stopwatch in 1776 and the electric clock in 1840. Until the railways came in ~1840 each town in Britain had a different time and the international time zones including Greenwich Meantime (GMT) were formed in 1884.

Now not to be confused: GMT (UTC+0) is the time zone and UTC is the time standard

Within the next century, nearly free pendulum clocks - like Siegmund Riefler's in 1889 - attained an accuracy of a hundredth of a second a day becoming the standard in many astronomical observatories a that time. Upon the introdcuton of R.J. Rudd's true free-pendulum principle in 1898, the W.H. Shortt clock - one of the most famous - was demonstrated in 1921 and almost immediately replaced Riefler's as a supreme timekeeper in observatories.

Another development in the 1920s were quartz crystal oscillators and clocks which quickly overtook Shortt's in performance. Their operation is based on the piezoelectric property of the crystals and had no gears or escapements as previous clocks. Quartz clocks and watches dominated the market in numbers because of their excellent price to performance ratio.

In the late 1940s, after the development of radar and high frequency radio communications, the first atomic clock based on amonia was built. Due to it's poor performance however, focus was quickly shifted towards the cesium based approach. This led, in 1955, the National Physical Laboratory in England to built the first practical cesium atomic frequency standard in collaboration with the U.S. Naval Observatory.
By 1960, cesium standards were refined enough to be incorporated into the official timekeeping system, leading to wide acceptance of this new technology.

Let's continue with the time zones

The most obvious and logical thinking here is: the day has 24 hours thus 24 zones, one per hour.
Wrong. There are 39 zones - some cross and overlap, some defy the sun and others are offset by 30 or 45 minutes.

Take Samoa, for example, they were on the western side of the date line but since their main trading partner was the US, they decided to switch to the eastern side (UTC-11) on July 4th 1892.
Yet again in 2011 Samoa split into American Samoa and Samoa. Now Samoa's main trading partner is Australia and New Zealand causing them to skip an entire day (December 30th 2011) when they went back to UTC+13/14 DST. Since then the two coutries - although only about 100km apart - have a 25 hour time difference.

Or China, they have 5 time zones but decided to only use Beijing time (UTC+8).
Thus in western China sunrise can be as late as 10:30 a.m., and sunset around midnight.

Moving to the unified time

So, why not take this approach and say when it's noon in Greenwich, Britain it is 12 everywhere.

  • What do those numerals mean anyway?
  • Wouldn't it be more logical to adhere to the sun as we have from the dawn of history?
Indeed there will be some adjustment but if Australia can handle their Winter in June, why not the rest of the world a unified time? Sure, people in New York or anyone on the same longitude will have breakfast at noon and dinner around midnight; while anyone around 150° longitude will have their sunset at about 7 a.m.
By the way, the time zones we have today are just about a century and a half old anyway..
In our globally networked era many indurstries already use Zulu time;
  • it is used in Aviation resulting in better communication and fewer incidents,
  • the military uses it to coordinate operations around the globe,
  • and the IT sector is widely using it for server administration (& the cloud).
Of course words like ante meridiem (before noon), post meridiem (after noon), Noon, Midnight, etc would soon become obsolete but imagine how easy it could be to schedule your next business meeting.
No more "10 a.m. your or my time?" but simply "10 o'clock". No more jet lag.
And perhaps only the metric system. (Yes, I mean you Americans. Even the British have adopted it by now.)

However, this entire concept is not new, visionary novelist Arthur C. Clarke suggested something similar in 1976, and many scientists as well as economists have been advocating for it for several years.
Certainly there are some drawbacks but sometimes even time has to catch up on time.

Images (in order):

A Pixabay


C Pixabay

D Pixabay


a Time and Date

Sources & more information:

1 Zach Holman's take on time

2 Things of Interest

3 Smithsonian Magazine

4 Vice

5 Hacker News

6 Medium

7 New York Times

8 The Johns Hopkins University


10 Quanta Magazine



13 Human Origin Projekt

14 Encyclopedia Cengage


16 Ancient History

UTC is enough, or is it? by Maximus Marcus Scaeva is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

#thoughts #time #world #change #life #whatif #reality #earth #planet #science #utopia #research

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