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Theory of Relativity supports plan for Moon standard time

  • April 9, 2024
  • 2 min read
Theory of Relativity supports plan for Moon standard time

It appears that Albert Einstein is the reason why the American government wants to establish an official time zone for the Moon! This is due to the way that gravity can affect time, throwing a lot of very precise technology seriously off track.

When missions to the Moon began in the 1960s, the question of standard time was ever brought up. Every country sending spacecraft to the Moon would, and still continues to, use Mission Control’s local time or GMT. But with the number of planned missions increasing every year, a Moon standard time is needed. This is because of the “intricacies” of electronics and gravity.  

According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, if a spacecraft moves close to the speed of light, it appears to an outside observer that time has slowed down on the ship, while aboard, it seems to be moving normally. Gravitational fields can cause a similar effect.

The more powerful a field is, if you are sitting stationary in it, the more it slows down time from an outsider’s perspective. The effect is small but enough that it can be measured and this can have real consequences. This is why standard time is measured at sea level on Earth.

That’s where Moon Standard Time comes in. An average clock on earth runs 58.7 microseconds per-day slower than it would on the Moon. With lunar missions operating independently of each other, that wouldn’t matter. But if they are to work in collaboration or with satellites for navigation, those could make all the difference between success and failure. With astronauts lives on the line, there is no room for error.

To prevent this, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) wants NASA, together with the Departments of Commerce, Defense, State, and Transportation, to establish Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC) which would be a lunar equivalent to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the primary time standard used to regulate clocks and time globally.

The task is expected to last a decade with the first milestone expected to be laid out by the 31st of December 2026. The goal is to make it an international standard through existing international forums, including Artemis Accords partner nations. Such a standard would ensure that spacecraft can safely work together, keep navigation systems accurate, and prevent timestamp confusion from instructions transmitted between the Earth and Moon.

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