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A new Martian calendar?

  1. Jun 2, 2004 #1
    A "new" Martian calendar?

    Frankly this is a bit of technical "fluff" for a SF novel where a good deal of the story takes place on well established colonies on Mars, but it's still an interesting technical question to think about.

    If there were substantial, well established colonies on Mars, what would they use for a calendar and time standard?
    The obvious choice would be a calendar and time standard based on the motion and seasons of Mars, but that approach ignores some rather prickly conversion problems between Martian dates and times, and those used on Earth.
    When you consider how important dates and times are, just in areas like commerce trade and the law, and then also consider how resistant lawyers and businessmen are when it comes to changing systems like this that impact their day to day lives, my own view is, that any kind of independent "Martian calendar", however efficient and or elegant it may be in terms of the realities of celestial mechanics, is very unlikely to ever come into widespread use by a predominately lay population.
    Scientists would use it, but everyone else's eyes would glaze over, and they'd groan and complain about it being "too complicated" and "a pain in the neck".
    As a result there'd never be the political will for any governing body to arrive at some sane standard (even assuming there IS the political will to come up with a standard, the chances of a "sane" standard being the result of months to years of political wrangling strikes me as unlikely as all hell).
    So how will a "standard" develop?
    Frankly I don't think any independent Martian calendar ever will develop. Instead, I suspect a bastardized version of Earth's time and date standards will emerge, that works something like this...

    A MARTIAN "DAY" - consists of 24 hours with time and time zones *directly* matched to those of Earth were "midnight GMT" = say, "midnight OMT" (aka midnight Olympus Mons Time), and the extra 37+ minutes in a day takes on the name "drop time", traditionally a break period of 37+ minutes a day where at "noon" all Martian clocks essentially freeze for those 37+ minutes (Martian clocks have a small "subface" that counts down "drop time" until the clocks restart).

    THE MARTIAN "YEAR" - doesn't exist. It's ignored in favor of staying in synch with dates on Earth. The Martian seasons come and go with no relationship at all to the date or months of the year.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 2, 2004 #2
    Maybe they'd add the month "Smarch" :biggrin:
  4. Jun 2, 2004 #3


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    The time and date are pretty big issues for some people. When the US (or British colonies as they were then) changed over to the Gregorian calendar in the 1750's you almost had riots. Landlords wanted an entire month's rent in spite of the deleted 11 days and employers weren't paying employees for 11 days that even exist, which put rent payers in a mighty tough spot. (People who had their birthdays deleted were particularly cranky that month) :wink:

    They would definitely want a clock and calendar that matched the local environment - i.e. one where 12:00 noon was always in the daytime, 12:00 midnight was always in the night time (by the way, freezing the clock for 37 minutes would just put them 37 minutes more out of sync - the Earth clock is running 37 minutes too fast for them, not their rotation running 37 minutes too fast).

    And, being in a more elliptical orbit than Earth, their seasons would be more extreme (at least in one hemisphere), so having a calendar that matched the local seasons would be pretty important, as well.

    I don't see running a dual system - one for local affairs and one for interplanetary affairs - as a huge problem. The Earth clock and calendar would only be used for interactions with Earth.

    Of course, if Mars colonies are far enough in the future, maybe having time linked to the physical environment won't be quite as firmly entrenched. With the technological advancements and their dependencies upon clocks, keeping 'Earth' time linked to the Earth's rotation has become a bit harder. Once in a while (a little less than once a year) an extra second has to be inserted to keep Universal Standard Time synchronized with the Earth's rotation. Except this hasn't been done since Jan 1, 1999, which puts our clocks about 4 seconds fast. Inserting a second causes problems for a lot of electronic systems that have to keep track of the correct time and interface with other electronic systems that are also keeping track of time - both have to be using the same time reference or at least know the difference between their two references. The extra second used to be inserted at 12 month intervals or, occasionally, after 18 months (6 months late). Since the adjustment isn't regular, it has to be manually accomplished for every system in the world that needs the correct time in order to interface with the rest of the world. For the short term, at least, letting the time drift away from the physical world is less of a problem than the ones that crop up immediately after the leap second 'should' have been inserted.
  5. Jun 3, 2004 #4
    neutroncount- Ya mean kinda like "smathew"? Tee hee! That was one of my fav eps of NEWS RADIO. Now that you mention it - THAT'S a TV show I've gotta see if I can find on DVD.

    BobG- PLEASE help me out with this...
    I think you've got it backwards (re: freeze clocks vs. clocks jump forward) don't you?
    It's "noon" GMT on Earth, the sun is directly overhead in Greenwich. At the same time it's "noon" OMT on Mars, the sun is directly overhead at Olympus Mons.
    Now, 24 hours later it's noon GMT on Earth, the sun is again directly overhead in Greenwich - BUT since a sidereal day is 37 minutes longer on Mars, the clocks all say it's noon at Olympus Mons, but the sun won't be directly overhead for another 37 minutes. So the Martian clocks freeze and hold, reading noon for 37 minutes, until the sun IS directly overhead. Now "noon" on Mars once again matches the time when the sun is highest in the sky, and the clocks resume counting normally.
    At least this is what I was thinking. If my thinking is screwed up here I'd really really REALLY like to know about it before I make a complete ass of myself. ;-)

    As to: "Of course, if Martian colonies are far enough in the future, maybe having time linked to the physical environment won't be quite as firmly entrenched."

    This was very much my own thinking. I looked at it this way; even on the hottest Martian northern summer day, when temperatures are at least livable, radiation levels are NOT going to be anywhere NEAR livable. Even if the atmosphere had thickened somewhat, without any significant magnetosphere, you'd still get cooked BIG TIME without protection.
    As a result, seasons be dammed, there just isn't going to be ANY time of the Martian year when people are going to be out in shirtsleeves and shorts sweating over a barbeque. Life on a Martian colony I suspect is likely to be very much an "indoors" lifestyle for the most part.
    Although, people being people, I can't see them spending ALL their time "indoors". That may be the case for a while, but people will adapt.
    "Space suits", I suspect will be nowhere near as cumbersome or complex to use. For the purposes of the story I've got them wearing "undersuits", basically a very high tech undergarment worn over your underwear, but under your day to day clothes, so that you can still wear "nice clothes" over a skin tight "undersuit". (How long do you really think women are going to put up with running around dressed in utilitarian garments with all the style and fashion sense of military "BDU's"? No nice gowns? No jewelry? No chance to dress up like civilized Human beings? Ever?! Guys with a permanent excuse for not caring what they're dressed like beyond the most base practical considerations when they leave the house? FORGET THAT IDEA BABY! The guys might put up with that for a while, but the women are going to insist on a bit more than living like animals in a hole in the ground. Fashion, I suspect, will not die on the plains of Mars, not if the girls have anything to say about it it won't.)
    But I'm digressing. The point is, in an environment like Mars, "seasonal" considerations I suspect won't mean all that much. People will look at whatever equivalent there is to the "Accuweather" webpage, or the "Weather Channel", before deciding whether or not to cancel an "outdoors" activity due to the high probability of a dust storm, solar flair, or whatever. But I suspect that wearing "winter clothes" or "summer clothes" over your undersuit isn't going to be something people really think about. An undersuit is worn to protect you from the environment, while the clothes you wear over it are more a consideration of style and social context. To go outdoors you put on a pair of suit gloves, flip a collapsible helmet over your head, check the wrist bracelet to make sure your suit is working properly, and step into an airlock, while any thoughts of what season it is outside goes the way of the Doe Doe bird, because that no longer matters.
    Thus a separate Martian calendar where the months match the seasons of the Martian year becomes more of a pain in the butt than anything of practical use.

    There are also other pretty dammed strong arguments for Martian colonies using an Earth based calendar year. Tracking a Fedex shipment from New York on Earth to a town on Mars would be one HELL of a lot simpler if everyone's using a common calendar. Dates in a ship's log wouldn't have to be converted. A person's age wouldn't have to be converted from dog years, to Martian years, to Terran years. If you're eighteen on Earth, you're still eighteen on Mars, or the Moon, an asteroid in The Belt, or an L4 or L5 colony. Patents would be dated using a common calendar date. So would the terms of a lease. The touring schedules of a popular band, fine art exhibit, or traveling theater group, would be a lot easier to arrange around a common calendar. Expiration dates on foodstuffs, or medicines, wouldn't get confusing.

    The bottom line here I think is that any culture, or groups of cultures interacting across the solar system, would need a common calendar for far too many day to day practical reasons for any system of multiple local calendar systems to take hold, outside of use by specialists working in fields where there are specific needs for a local calendar.
  6. Jun 3, 2004 #5
    OOOmmph. This whole idea doesn't really work.

    BobG- It finally sunk in. You're right. Using the system I'm talking about does in fact throw the time on Mars off from the time on Earth 37 minutes more with every passing day.
    Fine. The clocks reset on Mars so that noon OMT is when the sun is highest in the sky. But now it's noon OMT on Mars, but it's 37 after noon on Earth. Before you know it it's Monday on Mars but Thursday on Earth. Give it time and it's May on Mars and September on Earth if you've got the same number of days in a week and the same number of days in a month. With enough time you don't even have it being the same year on Earth as on Mars.
    This is going to take a LOT of work to come up with anything even approaching practical.
  7. Jun 3, 2004 #6


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    People have managed to live in the space station (both MIR and the ISS) for prolonged periods of time, so I guess some people can adapt to an 'indoor' lifestyle without being to concerned about external conditions (day/night, seasons, etc).

    Personally, I just don't see how. I would think 'cabin fever' would have to set in after a while. The year I spent in Alaska, I would still walk the half mile to work and back once in a while, even in the winter and even at night (of course, 'day time' in the winter was only a couple hours long, so who really cared if it was midnight or 8 AM) as long as the temperature stayed above 20 below (below 20 below and it could be kind of dangerous - it's hard to 'feel' the difference between 30 below and 45 below, etc, especially when there's so little humidity - so you don't realize you've got a problem until body parts start to go numb).
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