Update 71, Lunar Time Zone?

Have you ever wondered what time it is on the moon? While it might seem like a straightforward question, the answer is far from simple.

Lunar Time Zone

In November, representatives from space organizations worldwide gathered in the Netherlands to address the need for a standardized lunar time zone. With numerous moon missions planned for the next decade, there was a pressing need for an internationally accepted lunar reference time that could facilitate communication and navigation among these missions. Jörg Hahn, an advisor from the European Space Agency (ESA), emphasized that the moon required a shared clock and a common timing system for effective coordination.

Until now, lunar missions have relied on Earth’s time zones for synchronization. However, with the increasing number of lunar missions being planned by various space agencies, this approach was no longer practical.

Interestingly, the concept of lunar timekeeping and the development of a lunar wristwatch were not entirely new. In fact, renowned American astronomer Dr. Kenneth L. Franklin (1923-2007), the former chief scientist at New York’s Hayden Planetarium, had pondered this very issue over half a century ago.

Back in 1970, during the height of America’s Apollo lunar landing program, Dr. Franklin proposed a unique method for telling time on the moon. He envisioned that as we establish permanent moon bases, the inhabitants would require a time system based on the moon’s rotation. Dr. Franklin’s foresight aligned closely with the recent discussions among space organizations in the Netherlands.

Around the same time, Helbros Watches Inc., a company based in New York, saw an opportunity to capitalize on the growing interest in the Apollo moon program. Collaborating with Dr. Franklin, their technical director, Ross C. Kaskel, used the astronomer’s mathematical computations to design a lunar wristwatch prototype. Unlike traditional watches, this timepiece utilized the lunar synodic month or lunation as its basis. The watch displayed time in lunours, centilunours, and millilunours, providing a novel and intriguing way to tell time on the moon.

The lunar wristwatch garnered considerable interest and was even showcased at a news conference in April 1970. Helbros hoped that this innovative watch would boost their popularity and enthusiasm for the company.

Dr. Franklin’s vision for lunar time, which aligned with the recent discussions, proposed subdividing the moon into local lunar time zones similar to Earth’s standard time zones. This would allow for better coordination and communication among lunar missions.

Despite the initial excitement, interest in the lunar wristwatch eventually faded, and so did Helbros as a company. The prototype’s current whereabouts are unknown, and the unique timepiece remains a curious artifact of the past.

As we reflect on the legacy of Dr. Kenneth L. Franklin, his forward-thinking ideas about lunar timekeeping continue to intrigue us. Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, as we venture back to the moon, his vision of lunar time might once again find relevance and appreciation among the scientific community.


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