Scientists debate whether moon should get its own time zone

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The European Space Agency is looking to give the moon its own time zone because a number of missions to space are planned. 

Scientists are looking for a “common lunar reference time” for space agencies to use to best keep track of time when on the moon, Pietro Giordano, a navigation system engineer for the agency, said. 

“A joint international effort is now being launched towards achieving this,” he added.

NASA's Orion spacecraft flew past the moon Dec. 5, 2022. 

NASA’s Orion spacecraft flew past the moon Dec. 5, 2022.  (NASA via AP)

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The concept was first floated during a meeting in the Netherlands late last year as private companies and nations plan trips to the moon. 

Under the current system, astronauts use the time of the nation that is operating a spacecraft. But with more missions looming, scientists are looking for a more efficient way of recording and communicating accurate times.

NASA grappled with a similar dilemma when constructing the International Space Station more than two decades ago. 

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NASA’s plans for Wi-Fi on the moon could impact Earth’s digital divide. (NASA)

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But instead of figuring out a unique time zone for the station, scientists rely on Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, which is reportedly based on atomic clocks. 

The timing system essentially splits the difference between NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and other programs in Russian, Japan and Europe. 

This satellite image provided by NASA Sept. 26, 2022, shows Hurricane Ian pictured from the International Space Station just south of Cuba gaining strength and heading toward Florida.

This satellite image provided by NASA Sept. 26, 2022, shows Hurricane Ian pictured from the International Space Station just south of Cuba gaining strength and heading toward Florida. (NASA via AP)

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But there are technical issues that scientists have to consider when developing a lunar time system, like the fact that clocks run faster on the moon by about 56 microseconds each day. Ticking also reportedly works differently on the lunar surface than when in orbit.

Next year, NASA will also be launching its first manned mission to the moon in over half a century. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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