Are you someone who gets hit hard when daylight savings comes around? You feel groggy and out of sorts, unable to understand why until someone reminds you that you either lost or gained an hour, throwing off your whole perception of time itself?
Well, brace yourself then, as space agencies are joining forces and discussing giving the moon its own time zone. Given how the moon orbits Earth and its interactions with the sun, it's bound to be much more complex than anything we've got going on down here.
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The Moon's Mysteries
Given that nobody currently lives up there and even space agencies rarely make the trip up there, there are plenty of things we don't consider about the moon. Though we see it every night as it graces our skies with its beauty, the idea of spending any amount of time on or even near it doesn't really cross our minds, meaning we don't need to think about translating any of the simple, practical systems we have in place on Earth to function in space.
Some space travel experts have recently brought up one of those same systems, and what they decide to do about it could change how we see our nighttime friend forever.
That system in question is time, as the European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that it wants to give the moon its own time zone.
The moon is already pretty strange when it comes to time. A full 'day' on the moon is equal to 29.5 days on Earth, meaning it only sees the sunrise and sunset about once an earthly month. Not to mention that clocks run a slight bit faster on the moon than they do here at home.
With plans to send even more spacecraft to the moon and beyond, the ESA thinks we should standardize time for lunar missions.
The idea first popped up during a meeting in the Netherlands in late 2022, with someone suggesting a lunar time zone for standardization reasons. Others agreed, believing that establishing "a common lunar reference time" was an urgent matter according to Pietro Giordano, a navigation system engineer.
Since then, discussion about this new time zone has continued. Before this designation was proposed, moon time would always match that of the country that was operating whatever given spacecraft was orbiting it.
European space officials believe that a standard lunar timezone would benefit researchers across the world, especially with more countries and now even private companies gearing up to head to space.
This question of a moon-specific time zone has been up in the air for quite a while now, with NASA even having considered it back when the International Space Station (ISS) was still being built almost 25 years ago.
The ISS and those aboard it work on a different time zone—but one that still exists on Earth. They run on Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, a measure of time based on atomic clocks.
As for the moon, right now the debate is mainly looking at whether a single organization should set and maintain its new timezone, or if it should be a joint effort.
Beyond organizational details, there are also technical problems that should arise if given the opportunity. As mentioned earlier, clocks actually do run faster on the moon, gaining an extra 56 microseconds every Earth day. Clocks even tick differently while near the moon, something that changes yet again depending if you're on the moon's surface or in its orbit.
Above all else, though, this lunar time zone has to be practical and useful for the astronauts heading there themselves. They're going to be the ones experiencing it, so its usefulness to them is paramount to making this decision.
A Pressing Matter
It's been over 50 years since NASA's last human space flight to the moon, but the next one is being planned for 2024 with a new full lunar landing to follow in 2025, meaning this is an issue they'll have to tackle relatively quickly.
With each day lasting as long as 29.5 Earth days, "This will be quite a challenge," said Bernhard Hufenbach, Head of the Strategic Planning Office for the ESA. "But having established a working time system for the moon, we can go on to do the same for other planetary destinations."
Above And Beyond
I suppose it's no shock that space agencies already have sights set far beyond our own planet's orbit when it comes to new innovations in planetary travel, but who could blame them? Crafting a custom time zone is such a unique and fascinating project!
Though a time change on the moon might not affect things down here, figuring out ways to better translate the strange behaviors of other celestial bodies so they're understandable to our earthly minds is never a bad thing, especially if it sets a precedent for potential future life on other planets.
Not everyone is as on-board for that as others though, so for many of us, Earth's time zones are all we'll have to continue worrying about.
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