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Things You Didn't Know About Time

Updated November 4, 2019 229.0k views19 items

The nature of time has fascinated humans from the earliest point it could be measured. People have been trying to divide and understand time, how it works, and how it can be harnessed since then. How time works is still not entirely understood: is it a physical phenomenon or a mental one? And will time ever stop?

Even now, we struggle with how to measure time. Countries end up with strange time zone maps, either having too many zones or not enough. We've tried altering how we approach weeks, months, and years; how we divide up the calendar; yet always come back to the Earth rotating on its axis every 24 hours, and going around the sun every 365.25 days. After that, the nature of time becomes less practical and more theoretical.

Here are some things you didn't know about time - from everyday experiences to the ultimate fate of the universe.

  • Time Passes Faster the Higher Up You Get

    Photo: Trekking Rinjani / flickr / CC-BY 2.0
    Due to relativity, time passes slower the closer to the Earth's core you get. This means that your head is younger than your feet, and if you want to live longer, you should live on Mt. Everest. A year is about 15 microseconds shorter there than on the surface.
  • A Second is Not One-Sixtieth of a Minute

    Photo: Saberhagen / Wikimedia Commons
    While there are 60 seconds in a minute, that's not why a second is how long it is. Since 1967, the International Committee for Weights and Measures has measured a second 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 cesium 133 atom.” It can also be measured as a fraction of a year, 1/31,556,925.9747th of a year, to be exact. However, a second has been measured as 1/60th of a minute since the Babylonians in 300 BCE. 
  • Dinosaurs Had More Days in Their Years than Humans

    Photo: Tony Webster / Wikimedia
    Because of the drag created by the Moon's gravity, days on Earth have been getting shorter for a billion years. While current years are 364 days, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds long; at the time the dinosaurs went extinct, years were about 370 days long. And during the Cambrian Explosion, the time 542 million years ago when most current animal phyla evolved, years were about 420 days long.
  • The Soviet Union Tried a Five-Day Week and It Failed

    Photo: Public Domain

    In 1929, a Soviet functionary proposed changing from the seven-day Gregorian calendar to a five-day week, in order to not have weekends with lowered production. The idea caught fire with Stalin, and he declared that all manufacturing and commercial enterprises must switch to the "continuous" week, with workers assigned a number and color that would correspond to their days off. An added benefit was to remove the shared worship day from the calendar, moving the country further away from organized religion.

    The effect was to isolate workers and families, who would be assigned different days off, and get little or no time for coordinated activities. Families broke down under the strain, and the experiment was ended in less than two years. But even then, the Supreme Soviet couldn't resist screwing around with the calendar, and the next eight years were spent on a calendar of five weeks per month, six days per week, with the sixth day being a shared day off. That lasted until June 1940.