This week’s challenge is all about one love, so I thought I’d skip ahead of my writing and share a photo that best portrays my love of travel. This is the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. It’s easily one of the most serene and peaceful places I’ve ever visited; its raw beauty hasn’t been spoiled by tourism yet. In geographical terms, this was the furthest I’ve ever been from home (even more so than Hong Kong), and I loved every moment of it. Exploring the world, learning new things and cultures, seeing faraway shores, finding places that are more beautiful than you thought possible… all with the wind and sun at your back. A larger version is viewable here.
Hey, folks. Happy Leap Year!
…Yeah, okay, it’s not an actual holiday. But it does represent one of the most important and fascinating aspects about the Earth and our understanding of physics. It’s common knowledge that a year is 365 days; it’s what modern civilization uses to keep track of business performance, industry production, crop harvesting, population growth, radioactive decay, public transit, pizza deliveries, birthdays, Oscar acceptance speeches, and pretty much anything remotely affected by the passage of time. Needless to say, timekeeping is kind of important.
However, it’s inaccurate.
The 365 day per year model is based on the Gregorian Calendar, which was first instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. It was an update to the far older Julian Calendar, in an attempt to bring the actual day of Easter closer to the day the church thought it was supposed to be celebrated. It was shoehorned in at the end of February because, honestly, the Romans had a long history of treating the month like an afterthought. While altering the basis of time measurement must have been a huge headache for everyone involved – there are still several different calendars spanning various cultures, and Greece didn’t adopt the new calendar until 1923! – it also illustrated the big problem with timekeeping on Earth: it doesn’t divide into perfect increments. Earth’s orbit is 365.256 days. How do you add .256 of a day to a calendar? Hence why Leap Day happens every four years; the calendar skips over that .256, then multiplies by a whole number of those years to make up for it. .256 x 4 = 1.024, which is just enough to make an extra day and leftovers small enough that no one will really care…
For now, anyway.
Here’s the thing: How we measure Leap Years – and thus the passage of time – is going to have to change in the far future. The algorithm that the Gregorian Calendar uses is fine for our current civilization; it’s as accurate and easily applicable as it needs to be. But on long-term timescales – we’re talking tens of thousands of years – it won’t be able to keep up with the astronomy and physics it’s based upon. Thanks to the effects of the Moon’s gravity, Earth’s rotation is actually slowing down, creating longer days. We’ve already introduced Leap Seconds to make up for the discrepancies and inconsistencies in the planet’s rotation. That’s all assuming that nothing crazy happens with Earth’s orbit, or if it remains stable enough until humanity dies off and the sun goes red giant and destroys the planet in a few billion years.
…Happy Leap Year!
This week’s challenge is all about optimism, so I thought I’d skip slightly ahead of my travel log and give you a preview of what’s coming next. This is the city of Salerno, which is part of Italy’s world-famous Amalfi Coast. On the morning I took this, the sky was dull and overcast; I was worried our tour to Pompeii might be canceled due to bad weather, and started planning accordingly. After a little while, however, the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the city like a spotlight. It grew brighter as the clouds drifted slowly – but inevitably – down the coast. Not all problems can fade away like that, but a little patience goes a long way. A larger version is viewable here.
During the cruise, we were scheduled to have dinner at 6 PM every day…just in time for sunset. I made a habit of ordering early, excusing myself from the table, and coming back with sunset photos to show off to my fellow dinner guests. Here’s how the sky looked from Livorno’s harbor on October 21st, 2015. A larger version is viewable here.
MinutePhysics explains why the holiday season is more complicated than you might think.
It was a nice day and I had some free time, so I decided to explore a place I’d never seen before. I took the bus to the literal end of the road – Geary Boulevard, specifically – and ended up at Sutro Baths/Point Lobos. This is at the distant northwestern tip of San Francisco, and more remote than most touristy places. Aside from the long ride, it takes a little climbing to get down to this beach. Definitely worth the effort, though! Larger version is viewable here.
When I was taking sunset photos in Nuevo Vallarta, I had to share a pier with several other sightseers. Once the sun vanished behind the hills in the distances, most people left. However, I stayed an extra half an hour to see how the weather would develop. I was rewarded by one of the most vivid and colorful night skies in recent memory. Large version available here.