How you ever wondered how we will measure time in the distant future once human race expands into the far reaches of the universe? I’ve been pondering this lately. You see, this is what I do. I noticed that “normal” people think about practical stuff most of the time. They ponder what they are going to eat for lunch, what household chores they want to do after work, what TV shows they are going to watch, what their friends are up to. If you leave them in a room with nothing to do, they tend to get fidgety and bored. Then they invent stuff they can do – they start cleaning the house, mowing the lawn and etc. Every time I see this, I am quite amazed because this is such an alien condition to me. If you put me in a room with no TV, no internet and no books to read, I will probably be pretty content to sit there and think, and will eventually try to find a piece of paper to jot down notes before I lose them.
So I think about stuff like measuring time in a distant future. Right now, our whole system is based largely on physical constraints. We measure time in days, based on the rotational speed of our planet, months based on our lunar cycle and years based on. This works pretty well for us here on earth, but these units will become completely meaningless once we start colonizing distant solar systems. Different planets will have different rotation speeds, orbital periods and their own seasons. Just to give you an example, Martian colonists will probably have change how they define an hour to keep the 24 hour cycle aligned with sunsets and sundowns. You see, Martian day is roughly 37 minutes longer than the Earth day. If they were to use Earth clocks to measure time, this offset would start adding up causing an interesting drift. Over the period of few months 8am would fall around their noon, then around supper time, and then back to morning hours. The same would happen to their year, which is 324 days longer than ours resulting in drifting seasons.
Initially most colonized planets will probably establish their own time keeping systems that will work locally. Whenever you will need to communicate to offworlders you will simply have to specify whether your figures are in local time or Earth time or whatever. It is a workable system, and one not much different from the headache we already have with our time zones here on Earth. It will simply be another layer of crap to keep track off. But eventually we will move our populations beyond worlds. At some point we will start building mega scale space habitats such as Dyson Spheres in which the day/night cycles and seasons will be human controlled. We will also likely migrate into virtual spaces as well. Unsleeping digital ghosts, or inhabitants of simulated worlds could borrow a time keeping system from a neighbor and use as their own. Or they could choose to use Earth standard time. But they would have no reason to. Days would probably seem very arbitrary to people living in environments where there are no natural nights. I could see such civilizations gravitating towards some sort of standardized, unified time keeping unit to replace the ancient planet bound time keeping concepts.
In fact, we already have such a unit – a second which is usually defined as:
The duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.
Not that easy to remember, but at least it is constant – it will always be the same whether you are living on an alien world, or inside a space hab of some sort. It is also an SI unit, which means it is already universal and widely accepted. Seconds may be the only time unit that will make sense to everyone in a distant. It even scales nicely.
- 1 hecto second is approximately 1.6 minutes
- 1 kilo second is around 16.6 minutes
- 1 mega second is 11.6 days
- 1 giga second is 31.7 years
It’s so intuitive I’m surprised we haven’t started using this years ago.. For example, if you wanted to step out for 15 minutes you could easily say “Back in a kilosec”. Assuming that our circadian rhythm does not change much from what it is now, you would be required to work approximately 30 kiloseconds (~8 hours) sleep for another 30 and bullshit around for 40 more. This would give us a nicely rounded 100 kilosecond cycle that would be roughly equivalent to an Earth day.
A mega second could be equivalent to our week, comprised of exactly 10 sleep/work/play cycles. Current drinking age in US would translate to a little over half a gigasecond. Lifespan of baseline humans would be somewhere between 2 and 3 gigaseconds. Historical dates on the other hand could be measured in tera- and petasecond offsets.
It’s workable, units are nice, scale well and are based on a universal, non-geography dependent constant. Of course a lot of worlds would probably cling to their preferred time system – especially if they have used it for generations. Still, seconds could be a nice universal standard that could be used as a base for conversions. This way when two worlds need to communicate, they merely have to encode their dates as seconds. For example, just leave unix time stamp on everything – the guys on the other side will then convert it to their preferred format at will.
What say you?