Thursday, 9 January 2014

Sunrise Time

As I drag myself out of bed at 6.30am, outside everything is dark. It’s less than a month since the winter solstice, and as the year rolls on, the sun will rise earlier and earlier, until eventually we change our clocks by an hour to try to keep things relatively sane, nevertheless by summer it will still be light well before 6am.

This got me thinking - why do we have such a clumsy system for measuring time? What is 6.30am anyway? It’s six and a half hours measured from a meaningless point during the night called midnight. It’s a fairly arbitrary point from which to start counting. Ok so it's the middle of the night, who really cares about that?

Surely we can come up with a better system. One phenomenon that does make practical sense is sunrise. Imagine a time-keeping system which starts counting time at sunrise. 0:00 hours would be when the sun rises, winter or summer, wherever you are located. You might start work at 1:00, an hour after sunrise. You won’t have to get up in the dark in winter while feeling that the day is half gone in summer, it will always be an hour after sunrise. There would be no such thing as daylight savings time any more, there would be no need for it.

This of course would signify many changes. Time zones would no longer be simple bands more or less going North to South. Most countries, states or regions would want to choose a single location at which sunrise is measured so that the whole place would have the same time, otherwise simply announcing the time for an event would become too complex. Of course, sunset would still keep changing - if you start work an hour after sunrise, in winter you’ll probably go home in the dark while in summer it will still be light but that already happens now anyway. In addition, countries very far North or South, in which the sun doesn’t go set or doesn’t rise at all for weeks or months at a time, will have to use a different system - maybe using the nearest time zone outside the arctic / antarctic circle.

However the biggest headache would be our clocks. They’re all designed to measure time starting from midnight, and don’t expect "00:00" to keep changing from day to day. These would all have to be changed. Question is: would it be worth changing our clocks to eliminate these irritating anomalies?

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