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Time in Space

How do you measure time outside of Earth?

Here on Earth we measure time by the rotation of the planet and our orbit round the sun. With the development of technology mankind has been able to refine our measurement of time to hours, minutes, seconds, milliseconds and nanoseconds. But what would you do on a different planet with a different rotation and orbit? How do you tell the time in space?
Solar system drawing It’s hard enough altering your watch to local time when you travel. I live in the standard time zone of Greenwich Mean Time, like London. But I only have to travel to France and their time is an hour ahead. When I watch the news and see reporters broadcast live from different time zones it can be confusing.
Science Fiction largely ignores the distance between planets and uses faster-than-light travel to make the stories work. I did read a story once which didn’t use faster-than-light travel, about a ship visiting a planet occasionally, to them. One of the crew fell in love with a woman on the planet but he wouldn’t give up his job and she wouldn’t leave the planet. So they kept in touch and he visited her every time the ship came to the planet. The trouble was that the dilation effect of time in space meant that at each visit, he was about a year older and she twenty or thirty years older. It was a lovely but bitter-sweet story, because after a few years he arrived to find she had died. I can’t remember what it was called or who wrote it but it left a lasting impression on me.
Pocket watchesThe other sub-genre that allows for real time in space is the colony ship. Last year I reviewed The 100 TV series. The series ended with most people in cryo-sleep to wait until the irradiation of the Earth dropped down to a safe level. That’s one way of dealing with it. The other way is a generation ship, where people live their lives and have children, knowing it will be their descendants that actually colonise the planet.
My current work in progress goes to an earth-type planet with a twenty-hour day, but I now realise it doesn’t make any difference to the story! And it only occurred to me today to consider whether the Kestrel should alter ship time to synchronise with the planet below. What do you think?

Head shot Ann Marie ThomasAnn Marie Thomas is the author of five medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel, Intruders, Alien Secrets & Crisis of Conscience are out now Follow her at