Keeping track of time on Mars is very complicated

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2021/01/13/keeping-track-of-time-on-mars-is-very-complicated.html

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…at the risk of overthinking this, my assumption is that probably folks aren’t going to be walking around on Mars’s surface in a manner analogous to Earth for quite some while. And since we’ve evolved to Earth circadian rhythms ( with a nod to folks on the polar extremes as exceptions ) my assumption is Martian light/dark cycles would be handled more like the way we regard weather. It’ll dictate how you prepare for whatever you’re doing but won’t necessarily govern when you do them.

Plus I’m reasonably sure what will dicatate behavior is less how we regard time but how computers do.

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There is so much wrong with this. He says that they decided to divide the day into 12 parts because there were approximately 12 hours in a day. Which is crazy backwards. Before accurate clocks, an hour wasn’t a fixed length of time. In the summer, the hours were longer during the day and shorter during the night.
He defines a (solar) day and then gives the length of a (sidereal) day. I just can’t watch anymore.

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Yeah, the Egyptians probably divided the daytime into 12 parts because they used a duodecimal system so it came naturally.

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Didn’t watch the video because @simonize said it hurt to watch science descriptions fail so badly, but I’ll comment anyway.

In Red Mars, they defined they defined a Martian day as 24 Earth hours including the extra 39m40s where the clocks simply stopped at midnight to give people the impression of 24 hours. So, you got extra sleep. They called it the “time slip” (not to be confused with RHPS lyrics). I thought this solution was interesting.

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Also, adding a plug for my step-father’s book, Email from Mars: Outbound. Insert FTC laws about this being a semi-unbiased advert for him.

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Hamilton Space Clock

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This was meant to keep track of time on Mars and other celestial places. I just woke up so I don’t have the mental bandwidth to describe this fully but here ya go.

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There are so many practical problems with the idea of a time slip that it’s really a non-starter. First, keep in mind that everything on Mars is going to be driven by computers - everything from the really important things like life support, to trivial things like light switches and toilets flushing - and these computers are all going to be networked. (The delivery savings of not having to haul up physically massive wires and pipes, and the energy savings of “on-demand” will be too great not to build everything with IoT.) And these devices will all likely need a time component as a part of their networking and operations.

So even if humans were to somehow agree to all be asleep during the time slip (except for medical staff and emergency services, hmm…), the machines need to keep ticking, requiring a concept of time that flows all the way around the full Martian day. Anyone who’s interfaced with a computer system that doesn’t share a common clock knows how problematic this can be – think of bodges like the “daylight savings time switch” on the back of your alarm clock for just how stupidly awkward and expensive it is to try to present a common time interface to humans.

The primary use of a clock is in day-to-day living, so people should use a clock that is designed first for that purpose. Therefore mars colonists really should start with their own clock system based on the sol. In 50 Martian years when the population is primarily second- and third-generation native mars-born, they’re not going to want clocks and calendars that make odd jumps and skips just to remain bound to “earth time”. For those less-frequent times when they must interact with earth, they can coordinate schedules using a time conversion utility, just like anyone uses today when they schedule a Zoom meeting across time zones.

The toughest question is: would they continue to share a common “second” with earth? Science and engineering math on earth today is foundationally built on SI (the metric system), and the base foundational unit of time is the (earth-derived) second. A mars hour defined as 61.6 minutes would be awkward to use in daily life.

On the flip side, we’ve seen disasters created because Lockheed and NASA couldn’t agree on feet vs meters for the Mars Polar Lander mission, causing the craft to crash into the planet’s surface. Do we reallly want to force that kind of potentially fatal difference into the standard of timekeeping?

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That’s a gorgeous timepiece!

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Terrible video. Martian colonists would probably use clocks to keep time.

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I’m not disagreeing with any of this; very impractical for all the reasons you listed. Heck, if there are timezones on Mars as we have on Earth, it might be 4:20am in one spot and 00:00+timeslip20 in another. Or does the time slip only happen when Mars’ UTC hits midnight. But for a fictional work, I thought it was cute.

NASA asked for analogue wrist watches that operated slightly slower than normal watches, to be used as thank you gift for the various Mars mission personnel in 2004, not for anything scientific. For someone on duty, you need to be awake for the Martian day, not the Earth one, so it could be helpful and definitely more cool than a piece of software. See this for some info - I wish I had better links for this or an example of the timepiece; I’m not 100% sure they even manufactured them.

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I think that having Martian divisions of the day that are an odd number of seconds won’t really be a problem. But they should have distinctive names. Perhaps simply use a centisol (1/100th of a day) as a division of the day. That’s ~15 minutes and isn’t an unreasonable division of a day. Combine that with a milisol of about 1.5 minutes and you have pretty reasonable system for organizing the day. The actual second is still used for scientific purposes, meters/second etc.

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I’m excited to see how this impacts timekeeping in software (which was already super confusing) java.time.mars should be exciting.

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The Time Slip kind of assumes that nobody is awake at midnight. It wasn’t well thought out.

I mean if you take the midnight shift and clock in at 0:00 that could be almost a 40 minute window of time where you may or may not be getting paid. If you had a security log note unusual activity at 0:00, well, you’ve got 40 minutes of footage to look through to find what it’s talking about. It’s just a bad idea.

In practice by the time we have people on Mars we will be letting computers handle the time sync, which really only matters when you’re trying to communicate with someone on Earth anyway. But with the enormous light speed delay between the two planets the idea of doing realtime face to face communication will probably be seen as impractical anyway so you’ll send an email or a message and not expect an instant response anyway. Most likely the messaging client will give you an estimate of when the message will arrive in their time zone so you have a good idea of how long to wait to expect a response.

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“Metric Time NOW!”

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Obviously the computers would run on UTC like everything else, and Mars localtime(s) would just be extra locale(s) with their own rules, timeslip included. Multiple locales due to different locations on Mars.

@generic_name

Even the French gave up on metric time.

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