The Pocket Guide to Interplanetary Timezones

I have a friend who currently resides in Russia. And I have a friend in Ireland. And I have more than one friend in England. And of course I have friends on the west coast, and friends on the east coast.

When you have friends who live anywhere besides your county you run into an issue with timezones. When you have friends in other countries this gets a little weird.

“Good evening! How has your day been?”

“Well, it’s morning here, but it’s been going well so far.”

Then there’s the whole issue with the fact that because it’s morning there, it’s also tomorrow. You’re sitting happily at home on the night of the 13th, and they’re already living on the morning of the 14th. They’re living in the future. It’s freaky! Unless, of course, your friends live west of you, in which case they’re actually living in the past. Which is significantly less cool but probably more disturbing.

So there are these things called timezones. why do they exist? Because the Earth rotates, so the sun rises and sets, and we assign different numbers to the position of the sun and regulate our day around them. But people live all over the world, so the sun rises and sets at different times for everyone. For some reason it would just be too weird if the sun rose at 4:00 PM so we invented timezones so that The sun would rise at roughly the same time for everyone all over the world. But we are now stuck with recalibrating every time we talk to someone in a different timezone than us. This is important to know, or else you’ll be calling your best friend in Iraq at 1:00 AM, which would not be polite at all.

The sun rises in the East, so the further east you go the earlier in the day it rises. The farther west you go, the later it is. So 7:00 AM EST is 3:00 AM PST. This sounds backwards, but the reasoning is that the sun hasn’t risen in California yet. It’s still dark there, and will be for another four hours. So it’s 3:00 AM; a time when everyone is resting soundly in bed, and you’d better not call your Hollywood buddies just yet if you’re living in Virginia.

That’s straightforward enough, but if you keep wrapping around the globe you get off by eight hours, then twelve, finally sixteen, and that’s where the living in tomorrow thing happens. Fortunately you can’t be more than 23 hours off, because the world is only 24 hours in diameter.

So if you live in another country you learn to wrap your mind around all these different time zones, and you learn what is meant by local time, and you know that if it’s 6:00 AM in Russia it’s 9:00 PM in Kentucky, and then you go home and you start writing science fiction.

Here’s the problem with science fiction. Not all planets have 24 hours between sunrise and sunrise. In fact, it would be very rare  to have two planets with the same day length like that – even if they’re close they won’t be the same. So now you don’t just have different timezones, you have alternate timezones. If a planet has a faster rotation then your 8:00 AM will be a different time on each day. They’ll only cycle around maybe twice a month.

So on Monday 8:00 AM is 6:00 AM. And on Tuesday it’s 1:00 AM. And on Wednesday it’s 11:00 PM. And on Thursday it’s 7:00 PM. And if that’s not confusing enough, they’re experiencing the same issue in reverse. And if you have a widely populated galaxy this problem is expanded on and confounded further and multiplied by every star system, every planet, every inhabited asteroid! There would be no way to memorize the time table. You’d have to do a different complex mathematical problem every time you made a phone call. And let’s not forget, each planet is also divided up into their own timezones.

“What timezone are you on, so I know when to call again?”

“Oh, I’m on Main Eastern Time, Planet Gargyle. We won’t be in sync during daylight hours for another ten days.”

And so somebody, somewhere, is going to do all the math and compile a pocket guide of timezones and planetary rotations for the year, and everyone will have a subscription to it just like a phone book. It will be a best seller and they’ll come out with a new one annually with new listings, and accounting for adjustments in orbits and changes in date systems and whatnot. And the galaxy will love it and cherish it forever.

Until. One clever guy decides he’s tired of having to look up in a book every time he wants to call his sweetheart on Centauri IV, and he thinks it’s ridiculous all this waiting around so that you can make a business call at 10:00 AM like proper, and thinks “Hey, we’ve managed to travel light speeds, why not figure out how to beat those speeds and solve all these communication issues forever?” and then he’ll come up with a theory, which everyone will laugh at, but someone will love and build a prototype, and it will work and suddenly we’ve developed telephones that travel through time. And those people in the future can talk to you kn the past, and the light will bend around whatever gravity it needs to speed up or slow down and you can schedule a call at 10:00 AM regardless of what planet you’re on, or timezone you’re in and it will do whatever time traveling shenanigans it needs to to get back in time or forward in it so’s not to wake anyone up at an ungodly hour.

And it will break the laws of physics, so we’ll invent a new physics. And then time will cease to have any meaning at all, so we’ll invent a new time. And then we will be living in a strange new world where we can order the rising and setting of the sun at our pleasure and immortality will be within our grasp, and the perfect crime will have been invented, so the police will declare that there is no such thing as crime. And it will all be strange, and marvelous and terrifying, but it will have one remarkable feature.

When you call your friend in Russia you won’t have to worry about waking him up in the middle of the night.


The Pocket Guide to Interplanetary Timezones — 3 Comments

  1. Okay, I /love/ this ^^ What would happen though, if someone in the ‘future’ called someone in the ‘past’? As in, if it were 6PM here and I called you while it’s still 9AM there. Would you jump forward to 6PM your time? Would I drag you into the future? o.O

    • I think it would work just like a call to the past, only in reverse. You would be connected immediately, but I won’t receive the call until the next day.

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