Someday, explorers on the planet Mars might use special clocks --
with forty extra minutes per day -- to keep track of the time.
Friday, April 2, 1999DB: This is Earth and Sky for Friday,
April 2. Patrick Milo of Orleans, Ontario, writes, "How will
astronauts tell time during missions on Mars?"
JB: Shuttle astronauts coordinate their clocks with Mission
Control Center in Houston. But future explorers on Mars might adjust
their schedules to match the martian day at their landing site. They
might do this gradually during the flight to Mars to avoid
interplanetary "jet lag."
DB: A martian day is about forty minutes longer than an earthly
day -- which creates problems for astronauts who want to stay in
synch with Mission Control. One idea is to use a martian "time slip"
-- clocks would stop for forty minutes every twenty-four hours. Or
martian clocks might be altered to stretch the second. A day would
still be divided into twenty-four sixty-minute hours, but each hour
would last about sixty-two Earth minutes.
JB: During unmanned Mars missions, scientists numbered the
passing Martian days -- they called them "Sols." The Pathfinder
spacecraft started operations on Sol 1 and stopped transmitting on
Sol 83. Martian astronauts will probably use a similar system -- but
they might still keep track of birthdays and holidays using an
ordinary Earth calendar. By the way, you can see Mars tonight. After
moonrise in mid-evening, Mars will be the brightest object near the
moon. Thanks for your question, Patrick. And with thanks to the
National Science Foundation, we're Block and Byrd for Earth and Sky.
Author(s): David S. F. Portree
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