Understanding Time Zones



Considering Time Naturally

All Round

Areas wherein time stands still are called "time zones". That deserves some explanation because time never stops. It is necessary to consider and combine two simple concepts, one mathematical, the other astronomical. It is not difficult. Indeed it is familiar to all. The "roundness" of a figure or an object is measured in units called degrees. A circle has 360 degrees. By rolling one revolution in any direction a ball turns through 360 degrees. Time is measured naturally by reference to the Sun.

Sunrise

The Earth rotates from west to east before a relatively stationary Sun. The period of one full rotation is called a "day". The instant at which the Sun rises (or is first visible from any point on the Earth's surface) is never repeated on any one day. The Earth's rotation does not stop so the Sun is rising continuously for each different place on the Earth's surface. Time measured by the apparent movement of the Sun across the sky is always moving restlessly forward.

Man-made Complications

Man divided the natural phenomenon of a day into twenty-four periods called "hours". This allowed the passing of "time" to be measured. Twenty-four hours elapse before the Sun rises again at the same point on the Earth's surface. Any point to the west of where the Sun rises will still be in the dark. If it was decided that the day would start at the same time all over the World when the Sun rose at a specified point it is clear that for many the day would start in darkness. For places even more to the west many would be starting work when their biological clocks were suggesting that they should be about to sleep. This situation would not work. Equally continuous changes in the time of day as the Sun "moved" west would be unworkable. The trick is to "stop the clock" across a large distance from east to west. Humans are flexible creatures. If the time is called the same by reference to man's hour numbering even though by reference to the Sun it is two or so hours later at the western extremity of an area people would hardly notice this. The difference in the state of the daylight would be negligible. Thus an area across which time remains the same is created.

Only Man!

Time Zones : Convenient Cheating

On the western side of the border of a zone the human time-telling starts afresh even though it is perhaps some two or three hours later than when the time "started" at the eastern border of the zone. In this way people can live in tune with their natural rhythms, broadly, waking and working in the day and sleeping at night. The disadvantage of the system is that there may be limited socially acceptable time periods for communication with people in a different area.

At The Same Time ...

Time differences have to be considered if a retiree is to move to part of the world far removed from his place of origin, either east or west of it, and there will be a need to keep in touch with family or businesses. There are other considerations that must be taken into account if the new location is north or south of the previous home. These differences are less profound than those encountered with an east/west move. They are a function of different astronomical relationships between the Earth and the Sun. They do not give rise to the establishment of the zones mentioned above although the result is a difference from "natural" or "Sun" time. In terms of variations from natural time the difference is usually a matter of an hour or so, sometimes less, rarely more, and the change is usually for social reasons. It will be explored more fully on the pages dealing with seasons and twilight. All of these subjects are related to latitude and longitude. The link here and below will enable you to find the time at almost any place on Earth.


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