Thank Butterflies For Daylight Saving Time

Senate Sergeant at Arms Charles P. Higgins turns forward the Ohio Clock for the first daylight saving time, while Senators William M. Calder (NY), Willard Saulsbury, Jr. (DE), and Joseph T. Robinson (AR) look on, 1918. Credit: Wikipedia

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.

George Vernon Hudson of New Zealand, the first person to make a public proposal for adopting daylight saving time. Credit: Wikipedia

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.

1840 painting titled “Der Schmetterlingsjaeger” (The Butterfly Hunter) by artist Carl Spitzweg

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.

Saving daylight during the World War II years. Credit: Wikipedia

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

The countries shown in blue all use DST though the time it begins and ends varies. Credit: Wikipedia

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 …

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , by astrobob. Bookmark the permalink.
Avatar of astrobob

About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

4 thoughts on “Thank Butterflies For Daylight Saving Time

  1. Aloha Astro Bob and Everyone!
    Since Hawaii is one of the 2 and a half states that don’t observe DST, it must be either cause or effect that most folks go to bed early and wake early throughout this state. I moved here over 2 decades ago after living in Minnesota for 2 and a half decades and that was the very first difference I noticed about the “island society”. There hasn’t been a “spring ahead” or “fall back” moment that I’ve missed yet!
    I can’t say I miss trying to sleep on a work-week night when it is still broad daylight at 10PM…or, trying to get children under 8 years old to understand that it was really time for bed during daylight. I’m actually thankful that I wasn’t as interested in Astronomy then as I am now or I would have had to add, “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 at the night sky” to my list of DST frustrations! Whew!
    I’ve heard all the pros/cons of DST and none of them really seemed good/bad enough to justify needing to “play with time” in this way. It always seemed a silly and stupid thing to do. Now that I live where DST isn’t observed, my ever growing list of DST related frustrations has vanished. Just one of the many reasons folks here take life much slower and calmer.
    Thank you for the history of DST, I thought I knew all about it but really didn’t!

    Aloha Just For Now!

  2. Sunday night should be clear but I have to work. I plan to go out Monday night. That is also predicted to be clear. Panstaars should be a little easier to spot than the night before.

  3. As you’ll probably now, for us Europeans the DST change will be March 31… Panstarrs is a kids TV show here, but I’m glad we can see equinox sunset at 6pm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>