Ask Ethan #30: Long-term timekeeping (Synopsis)

While friendship itself has an air of eternity about it, seeming to transcend all natural limits, there is hardly any emotion so utterly at the mercy of time.” -Robert Hugh Benson

If you were headed out into the Universe — spaceship and sci-fi technology and all — it simply wouldn’t make sense to keep on counting time in Earth-days and Earth-years, would it? When you’re no longer bound to our planet, and particularly if you’re gone long enough, as our planet changes its orbit, it sure seems silly, doesn’t it?

Image credit: American Physical Society, via http://www.physicscentral.com/explore/action/iceage.cfm.
Image credit: American Physical Society, via http://www.physicscentral.com/explore/action/iceage.cfm.

But you still might like to know how much time has passed, wouldn’t you? You’d like to have some way of tracking the passage of time in the Universe. Is there some sort of standard that’s more universal than an orbit of a rock around a star? In this week’s Ask Ethan, we take on perhaps the longest question of them all, and look at how to keep time for arbitrarily long times.

Image credit: © NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / Dana Berry.
Image credit: © NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / Dana Berry.

Go and read the whole thing.