Time is what we make of it, and this weekend citizens of 70 countries across the world will advance their clocks one hour ahead in homage to daylight saving time. For U.S. the transition occurs at 2 a.m. Sunday morning March 10. All states except Arizona and Hawaii observe DST.
If you’re into astronomy, daylight saving time has both pluses and minuses. The sun will set an hour later Sunday or just after 7 p.m. Since I get off work around 6:30 p.m. I’ll not only get to drive home in daylight but also have time to drive to a place to spot Comet L4 PANSTARRS.
Without DST, the sun would set around 6 p.m. and I’d have to hurry to catch the comet before it set. On the minus side, that extra hour carried over into the summer means that the sky doesn’t get dark at my location until after 11:30 p.m., necessitating staying up VERY late to look through a telescope at the night sky.
Historians agree that one George Vernon Hudson was behind the creation of daylight saving time. Born in England in 1867, Hudson loved collecting insects. By age 14 he had published his first paper in the British journal The Entomologist and exhibited a hermaphrodite moth at a meeting of the Royal Entomological Society of London. In 1881 he moved to New Zealand with his father and pursued his insectivorous interests there.
Hudson was also passionate about astronomy. He observed and took notes on eclipses in both England and New Zealand and was one of the discoverers of Nova Aquilae in June 1918. For a brief time this “new star” shone almost as bright as the star Sirius, gaining fame as the brightest nova of the 20th century. You can still see the star – now called V603 Aquilae – to this day in a 6-inch or larger telescope glowing meekly around 12th magnitude. Click HERE for a chart.
In his adopted country, Hudson worked on a farm and then took a job at the post office where he worked until his retirement in 1918. Routine working hours meant he was free in the evenings to pursue insect collecting. No surprise then that Hudson valued all the sunlight he could get, since it afforded him more time to collect his favorite butterflies and and moths.
That’s when he came up with a truly bright idea. Why not extend daylight hours into summer evenings to allow the public to take advantage of outdoor activities?
On October 15, 1895 Hudson read a paper titled On Seasonal Time before the Wellington Philosophical Society. Here’s the nut of his proposal:
“In order to more fully utilise the long days of summer, it is proposed on the 1st October of each year to put the standard time on two hours by making 12 (midnight) into 2 a.m., whilst on the 1st March the time would be put back two hours by making 2 a.m. into 12 (midnight), thus reverting to the present time arrangements for the winter months. The effect of this alteration would be to advance all the day’s operations in summer two hours compared with the present system. In this way the early-morning daylight would be utilised, and a long period of daylight leisure would be made available in the evening for cricket, gardening, cycling, or any other outdoor pursuit desired.”
As you can see, Hudson proposed a two-hour shift that would be reversed in the winter months when people spent more their time indoors (or, ahem, not collecting insects). Although not well-received at the time, he outlined in detail the benefits of what has since been widely adopted as daylight saving time. Benjamin Franklin had played around with the idea as an exercise to save money on candles back in 1784 but did not carry it further.
Englishman William Willett independently proposes an alternate form of DST to extend summer evening light by incrementally moving clocks forward 20 minutes each Sunday in April and then switching back to standard time by moving clocks back 20 minutes each Sunday in September. Although the proposal was heard by the British Parliament, it failed mostly because farmers didn’t like the idea.
The first countries to adopt the new time were Germany and Austria during World War I as an austerity measure to reduce energy consumption by artificial lighting. Britain and other countries including the U.S. followed.
Here are some DST highlights in U.S. history:
* After World War I daylight saving time was repealed because it was unpopular.
* Re-instituted and called “War Time” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the Pearl Harbor bombing that brought the U.S. into World War II. War Time was in effect year-round between February 9, 1942 to September 30, 1945.
* Between 1945 and 1966 states could individually decide when to begin and end DST. This caused great confusion in train, plane, bus and broadcasting schedules until the Uniform Time Act of 1966 that fixed the start of daylight time on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October.
* After the Arab oil embargo in 1973, Congress extended DST to 10 months in 1974 and 8 months in 1975, returning to the original fixed times in 1976.
* As part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and implemented in 2007, DST starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November
Today over a billion people across the planet use daylight saving time. What was it I read somewhere that the flap of a butterfly’s wings magnified across time could affect the weather on the opposite side of the globe? Hmmm …