MARTY RUSSELL: Time is definitely not on our side

By Marty Russell

“Time is an illusion, Lunchtime doubly so.”
Douglas Adams

Unless you have a TARDIS in your garage instead of a Ford Taurus, you probably don’t give much thought to time or how it’s calculated. We look at our watches, check the calendar and go on about our business. But time is not a constant, at least not the way we calculate it here on Earth, which is why this year is a leap year and why there is currently a debate about adding leap seconds on occasion.
This year February has 29 days as opposed to the usual 28. The extra day is added to keep the calendar in synch with the Earth’s rotation. It takes the planet 365.24199 days to complete one orbit around the sun. Since the normal calendar only has 365 days, about every four years an extra day has to be added to keep up.
Why February? Because of egotistical politicians as if there were any other kind. We add a day to February in leap years because February is already the shortest month of the year. It’s the shortest month of the year because, back during the reign of Julius Caesar when the Julian calendar was in use, there were only 10 months in the year, alternating between 30 days and 31 days each. Nobody really cared that that resulted in a 366-day year.
But Caesar decided he wanted a month named after him and created July, pushing all the other months back. He wanted his month to have the maximum number of days, 31, so he took a day out of February and added it to the newly-created July. Later, when Augustus Caesar came along, he decided he wanted a month too so he created August and, not to be outdone by his predecessor, gave it 31 days as well, taking yet another day out of February which was considered at the time to be a bad- luck month.
The creation of two new months pushed all the other months back which is why December (dec) means 10 for 10th month and October means eight. Of course, now December is the 12th month and October the 10th.
As if all that wasn’t confusing enough, modern-day scientists discovered that the Earth is slowing down and that occasionally a leap second needs to be added on the last day of the year to keep time in synch with Earth’s atomic clocks. But many object to having leap seconds because it throws the clocks of highly sensitive equipment off unless they, too, are reset.
So the International Telecommunication Union was tasked with deciding whether to continue adding leap seconds. But the committee charged with the task, taking a page from Congress, announced in January it was putting off a decision for a few years, probably to let someone else take the heat.
Problem is, without leap seconds, in a few centuries noon, when the sun is directly overhead, would occur at 11 p.m. That would be quite a leap.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by email at marusse1@olemiss.edu