The Physics Of Why Timekeeping First Failed In…

The Physics Of Why Timekeeping First Failed In The Americas

“As soon as the clock arrived and was set up, it began keeping time more accurately than any timepiece before ever located on the North American continent. At least, that was what everyone assumed was happening for about a week or so. But after that amount of time, it became clear that something was amiss. The Sun and Moon weren’t rising at their predicted times, but rather were off by a bit.

Even worse, the amount that the clock was off by appeared to be getting worse over time: whatever error was at play was accumulating. Instead of these reliable, celestial events occurring at the predicted times on the clock, they were occurring earlier, according to the clock. Something was wrong. The clock was not only running slow, but appeared to be losing close to a minute per day.”

Imagine the news in 17th century America: a new form of timekeeping has been developed, and instead of an uncertainty of around 15 minutes a day (like you get with sundials), you can keep time accurately to within seconds per day. It would be an incredible advance! So you place an order to the Netherlands, where they’ve developed it, and they build you a clock. You send it across the ocean, set it up, and start it working. It seems to work great! But then you realize, after about a week, that the Sun and Moon aren’t rising and setting when they should. Something about your pristine clock is off. So you send it back, and when they start it up back in Amsterdam, it works perfectly.

Sounds like a mystery! But this mystery is something special, because the problem wasn’t with the clock, after all, but with the Earth. Come get the bizarre but educational story of how timekeeping first failed in the Americas!