Time / by kevin murray

There are 24 hours in a day, with each hour consisting of 60 minutes, and each minute consisting of 60 seconds.  Every school child knows this and this is simply taken for granted as if time has ever been measured at this particular pace, and alas, that has been the progression of time through the modern age.

That said, In America, we are use to a base-10/decimal system, and consequently, while looking at time from that angle it appears that time is out of sync with our decimal system and perhaps in need of a fresh look.  I'm not the first to question this; the French did this back in 1793, during their bloody Revolution in which their new time system created a 10-hour day, with 100 minutes per hour, and 100 seconds per minute.  Brilliant!  Well, probably not, as it only lasted 17 months and was a resounding failure.   While one can easily say that the French attempt at decimal time was "ahead-of-its-time", it doesn't appear that any new attempt will be made anytime soon, even though, with today's technology it would be relatively easy thing to accomplish.  Why is that?

Mainly because there is an awful lot of logic behind the way time is measured on earth.  The ancient Babylonians are given credit for our 24-hour day, which they created by studying the sky and its stars.  In many respects, because of modernity and our modern lights, we are unable to see the stars in the sky as the Babylonians did.  Additionally, of course, ancient cultures had far more interest in the night sky than our jaded interests of today.  So when the Babylonians studied the stars, they really studied the stars.

They noticed and noted the consistency of the sky, in particular, that the sun will rise and set each evening, as did the moon, and as so do certain major stars that are visible to our unaided eyes.  By studying those stars from a fixed location and over an extended period of time, the Babylonians were able to discover that the stars moved in an orderly and predictable pattern and that this pattern would repeat itself after approximately 12 lunar cycles. The Babylonians then took the nighttime and divided it too into 12 cycles and matched that with the daytime to create a grand total of 24 cycles which we eventually know today as hours.  Additionally, the Babylonians noticed that the sun itself moved a small fixed amount each day and that this cycle completed in 360 days which is also divisible by 12.

Although there were now 24 hours in a day, minutes had yet to be created.   Fortunately, the Babylonians used a sexagesimal (base-60) numeral system and the number 60 works out to be the perfect number.   It is the product of the 3-4-5 right triangle (considered to be the most perfect triangle), certainly known by the Babylonians, and 60 is also the smallest number with 12 different divisors, including, of course, the number 12.   Additionally, the circle which is made up of 360 degrees is also divisible by 60 into a whole number so it all really does make a lot of sense.