Monday, September 22, 2008

Autumnal equinox--does anybody know what time it is?

I spent an hour or two Saturday shucking basil seeds--after the flower petals drop off, the pods dry up, holding a few seeds each. Summer was receding. The seeds will be planted just before spring, and again, we'll have basil.

While I expect to have a few more goes at spring, collecting seeds this time of year reminds me nothing is guaranteed. I like that. This particular wheel of humans sowing, eating, harvesting, then planting again has been around for thousands of years. I hope it continues for thousands more.

The equinox was at 11:44 AM our time today. We're still connected to the universe with our time, at least for now. Oh, we keep a few atomic clocks running, but as precise as they are, even they are not absolutely synchronous, and there is joy in our inability to quite grasp what time it is.

Ephemeris Time, Barycentric Dynamical Time, Geocentric Coordinate Time, Terrestrial Time, Father Time--no one really knows what time it is--and even if one did, reporting it depends on a clearer understanding of spacetime than most of us possess. All of them, however, are attempts to tie time to the world outside our imagination.

Twice a year, the French (who control the standards for time and a few other crucial measurements) announce to the world what corrections are needed to keep the atomic clocks in synch with "real" time.

In 2005, the United States balked. We have a lot of very expensive, very deadly weapons. Resetting the time every now and again takes, well, time.

And money.

In 2005 the US proposed that we just stop basing time on the universe. Forget the leap seconds. It's too confusing. The Earth's rotation is slowing down anyway (blame the tides), so why not just toss away the connection of time to anything outside a vibrating particle of cesium-133?

Why, indeed.

Still, three years later, the French still control time, and time remains connected to things outside our artificial world.

And a few thousand years from now, should we still be around, someone else will be saving basil seeds, on a late summer day, a late summer day a few moments longer than mine.


Betty said...

And to think I still have trouble knowing if it's going to be lighter or darker in the morning when the time changes.:) Your last paragraph will stay with me for a while.

doyle said...

Happy Birthday, Betty!

I am (almost daily) surprised how fast our sun dies this time of year. It catches me by surprise every year. My imagination cannot match what happens outside my door.

No wonder yule celebrations mattered so much.

(And thanks for the words.)