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New clock for the moon where seconds tick faster than Earth? Here's what NASA is planning

The White House has directed NASA to come up with a new clock for the moon.

New clock for the moon where seconds tick faster than Earth? Here's what NASA is planning
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels I David Besh

While humans have made significant strides in lunar exploration, one constant has been the shared time zone used by both Earth and the moon. However, this is set to change as NASA plans to establish a unique lunar time by introducing a separate clock, according to Smithsonian Magazine. 

Image Source : A supermoon rises in the night on August 01, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. The moon is one of two supermoons that will appear in August. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Image Source: A supermoon rises in the night on August 01, 2023, in Chicago, Illinois. The moon is one of two supermoons that will appear in August. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

NASA's plan to put a separate clock for the moon arises from the need to maintain a new time reference system so that astronauts can better understand the time difference. It's important to note that lunar time differs from Earth's. With the moon's weaker gravity, time actually moves slightly faster—by 58.7 microseconds each day.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Mat Brown
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Mat Brown

To address this time discrepancy, the White House has directed NASA and other U.S. agencies to collaborate with international bodies to develop a moon-specific time reference system. Stressing the importance of a separate lunar clock, Kevin Coggins, Deputy Associate Administrator and Program Manager of NASA's Space Communications and Navigation Program, told The Guardian, "An atomic clock on the moon will tick at a different rate than a clock on Earth."

He added, "It makes sense that when you go to another body, like the moon or Mars each one gets its heartbeat." Coggins also talked about the significance of the clock and how beneficial it could be in a bigger context. "The last time NASA sent astronauts to the moon they wore watches, but the timing wasn't as precise and critical as it now with GPS, satellites and intricate computer and communications systems. Those microseconds matter when high-tech systems interact," he said.

Image Source: Image Source: This view of the rising Earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the moon after the lunar orbit insertion burn. Earth is about five degrees above the horizon in this photograph.
Image Source: Image Source: This view of the rising Earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the moon after the lunar orbit insertion burn. Earth is about five degrees above the horizon in this photograph.

NASA has been given time till 2026 to set up the moon-specific time zone, called Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC). The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has talked about how the absence of LTC could affect us in the future. It said that without the new clock, it would be challenging to ensure that data transfers between spacecraft are secure and that communications among Earth, lunar satellites, bases, and astronauts are synchronized. 

Image Source : In this handout image provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, the International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour orbit Earth during Endeavour's final sortie on May 23, 2011 in Space.(Photo by Paolo Nespoli - ESA/NASA via Getty Images)
Image Source: In this handout image provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, the International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour orbit Earth on May 23, 2011. (Photo by Paolo Nespoli - ESA/NASA via Getty Images)

The International Space Station (ISS), being in low Earth orbit, will continue to use Coordinated Universal Time or UTC. It is yet to be decided whether NASA will change the timezone for its space station. As more countries engage in lunar missions, this new clock will prove essential for data storage and communication.



 

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