As Time Goes  By

The Vernal Equinox  


Illumination of the Earth by the Sun on the day of equinox, (ignoring twilight)

None of us really understand what time really is.  I sure don't.  That should come as no surprise after Einstein showed us that time is not a universal constant, but is affected by velocity and mass.  So when you ask "What time is it?", it is really a very difficult question to answer.

 People who wear watches do it for comfort.  I personally don't like to time my cells' decay.  We somehow sense time adds up and never subtracts, but that might not be true either. although time travel is an appealing thought.

Some of the more affluent members of our community have GPS systems in their car or on their boats.  GPS depends upon the velocity of satellites that zoom around up above. They have to  know what time it is and not just approximately.  If they lose track of their time relative to  you, then YOU get lost.  They correct themselves because their time is not our time due to their relative velocity.  That's modern Einstein at work... but it's just the tip of the iceberg.  Remember the old song sung by Rudie Valley My Time is Your Time or Vera Lynn's As Time Goes By?

We are used to our handy clocks and how they tell us when we are sleepy and alarm us when we still are sleepy.  They are really odd beasts when you think about them. They are not decimal in nature.  They use the base 12 number system and the military uses the base 24 and not our familiar base 10.

If Napoleon would have had his way, we would have had a metric clock with a 10 hour day, 100 minute hour and a thousand second minute.  A phrase we use all the 'time' like "Give a second, will you?", would have to be somehow altered and music conductors could not just say "a one and a two and..." before the music begins. 

Cooler heads prevailed and the Little Man never got his metric clock into play.  The clockmakers of Europe did not want to convert those town centre clocks to metric.  Just think of all those gears and pendulums that would have been forced to be changed and altered.  The Great General was defeated by gears.  Time got to him in Russia too when he, like Hitler, started the invasion too late.  Neither consulted the farmers.

Our year has always been puzzling to me.  Just think... why do we call the tenth month October?  That comes from the old Roman calendar which came into play in Caesar's time and remained in effect until the Gregorian Calendar was dictated by Papal Bull in 1582.  Russia remained with it until about 1918.

So what was the problem?  The ancients knew that a year was about 365 days, but if they stuck with that, then it would over time get out of whack so they inserted a "Leap Year" every four years.  Grade school kids know, this would make the year on average over time to be 365 and 1/4 day long.  Isn't that what we have now?

(next column)


No, it's more complicated because 365.25 days is a bit too long and over the centuries this will add up and cause trouble, so our average year is 365.2425 days, or 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds.

But, you ask, we have Leap Years, don't we?  Yes we do, but the way we compute them is somewhat different because we want to bring ourselves back to 365.2425 which is more accurate when we drift away from Caesar's Calendar.

Our Leap Years are all years exactly divisible by 4, with the exception of those exactly divisible by 100, but not by 400.  So you can see we are adrift until we get our corrections and then only on the long average.  Ah, we really are adrift all the 'time'.

I think we should give the ancients credit for getting the year right to that precision.   It was not done with a watch, but with the sun shining on a set spot some place in the Empire and probably not too close to the equator.

Easter gets involved because Churches have established an odd rule that depends upon the moon.  The UK passed a law fixing Easter in 1928, but never enforced it because they saw that it would make no difference to Clerics anyway.

We are coming up to the Vernal Equinox which is when the days at the equator are about equal, if we knew what a day was.  Since we are just short of 45 degrees, it's not really on 21 March, but a bit later.  Anyway, that calculation goes into when Easter occurs so the Sun and the Moon conspire to determine when Easter is.  Jesus Christ would not bother with all that.

The 'Computus' as they say in Latin says that Easter day is the first Sunday after the 14th day of the lunar month (the nominal full moon) that falls on or after 21 March (nominally the day of the vernal equinox). For determining the feast, Christian churches settled on a method to define a reckoned "ecclesiastical" full moon, rather than observations of the true Moon as the Jews did at the time. Eastern Orthodox Christians calculate the fixed date of 21 March according to the Julian Calendar rather than the modern Gregorian Calendar, and observe the additional rule that Easter may not precede or coincide with the first day of the Jewish Passover.

I have no idea what time it is.  My Computer tells me it's 3:10 PM on March 8, 2008, but I'm not sure. Easter?  Oh yes, I'll just look in the Saugeen Times Event Planner, that will tell me