A new calendar?

With a new year how about a new calendar? No, not a nice new HST images calendar from Amazon but an entirely new system of dates. A strange suggestion I know but it was discussed in an article on EurekaAlert just before Christmas.

It seems that Prof. Richard Henry has proposed a new system that would mean that month days would always fall on the same day of the week. So if your birthday falls on a Tuesday it will always fall on a Tuesday. My immediate thought is to feel sorry for those born during the week as you wouldn't get a weekend birthday again. The point of all this is that we would never need to buy a new calendar again as they would remain the same from year to year.

If it is such a great system why has nobody done this before? The answer lies in the details. The system will have either 30 or 31 days in every calendar month and leap years will be abolished. There are 365.242199 days in a year so this system - like all the others - needs to add extra days every so often to stop the calendar getting out of sync with the seasons. To do this, Prof. Henry adds a short, extra month (currently called Newton) every five or six years. Here we run into practical problems as this means every year will not be identical as suggested. Prof. Henry's hope is that we will all be given the whole of Newton as a holiday, but I don't think this is very realistic? The other problems are practical ones related to birthdays for those born during Newton or those whose birth dates would no longer exist.

What about the practical implemenation of this new system? Every date function on every computer around the world will need to use a large lookup table of years to find out when to include the extra month and to work out the time between two dates. At the moment there are well defined formulae to work out the number of days in a year so to me this is a step backwards. When changing our calendar we need to stop to think if we will really benefit so much from the change. This calendar doesn't really get rid of the problems we have with the current calendar such as the unequal length of the months and the addition of leap days.

There is also a suggestion that we adopt Universal Time (UT) as the standard for our clocks. This would remove the need to work out time differences between different locations around the world; if it was 10 am in Manchester it would be 10 am in Tokyo. This may seem great but is only of benefit to those that work across time zones and most of them (e.g. astronomers) use UT already. For most practical purposes it would cause confusion over when to go to sleep or wake up; if you went to a different part of the world you would have to find out what the local working hours were - New York might be 14:00 until 22:00 for instance.

Calendars should only be changed when they produce a significant improvement over the existing system. What next, a calendar based on Sidereal Time? Actually, come to think of it, I wouldn't mind a wrist watch that shows sidereal time as well as local time.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 05th Jan 2005 (17:55 UTC) | Permalink
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