Because no one knows what time it is in the month

Scientists and space agencies in different countries of the world still do not agree on the definition of lunar time. NASA: “We’re just starting to shape it. »

More than 50 years after the last Apollo mission, returning to explore and settle on the Moon, or at least to use it as a permanent outpost for future trips to Mars, is quite prominent in future space programs. . Missions such as Artemis, which plans to return humanity to the Moon after the last first unmanned flight, and the launch of Gateway, the first space station in lunar orbit, which Samantha Cristoforetti will also oversee, are the first efforts to restart the ship. exploration that opens up new challenges. Among them is a subtle but fundamental question that scientists and space agencies around the world have yet to answer: What time is it on the moon?

For interest, in a published article Nature magazine, it was science popularizer Elizabeth Gibney who also gave an update on why the Moon still doesn’t have independent time today. ” Each lunar mission uses its own time scale, which is linked through its controllers on Earth to Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, the standard by which the planet’s clocks are set. Gabney explains. However, this method is relatively imprecise, and spacecraft exploring the Moon are not synchronized with each other. This approach works when the Moon hosts several independent missions, but will be problematic when multiple ships are working together. Space agencies will also want to track them using satellite navigation based on precise timing signals.“.

What time is it in the month?

It is currently unclear what form the Universal Moon Clock will take. In November 2022, representatives of space agencies and academic organizations from around the world gathered at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Center for Space Research and Technology in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, to begin writing recommendations for determining lunar time. ” We’re just starting to shape it.” says Cheryl Gramling, an aerospace engineer who leads the lunar position, navigation and weather team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

It is not easy to determine the lunar time. ” Although the definition of a second is the same everywhere, special relativity dictates that clocks run slower in stronger gravitational fields. Gibney continues. The Moon’s gravitational pull is weaker than Earth’s, which means that for an observer on Earth, the Moon clock will run faster than the Earth clock.“. According to Gramling’s calculations, a lunar clock would gain about 56 microseconds in a 24-hour period, and compared to clocks on Earth, its ticking rate would also vary slightly depending on its position on the lunar surface due to rotation from the Moon.

A solution may be to base lunar time on a definition of a lunar standard that may or may not depend on ground time. This involves installing at least three master clocks that clock in with the Moon’s natural rhythm, whose output is combined with an algorithm to create a more accurate virtual clock. Alternatively, the Lunar time can be compared to UTC, where the virtual Lunar time will be regularly synchronized with the Earth’s UTC. ” Between recordings, the master Moon clocks will continue to record time until the next synchronizationGibney notes.

Another option would be to use the Moon clock output as an independent and continuous time of the month and correlate it to UTC. ” In this way, even if communication with Earth were lost, the Moon’s clocks would still be aligned, allowing for safe navigation and communication. Gramling said. Establishing independent time is a model that would also work for more distant planets targeted by space agencies, such as Mars. Transferring UTC there would be more complicated than on the Moon“.

In this scenario, lunar days may be defined differently than on Earth, taking an average of 29.5 Earth days to calculate the time from one solar noon to the next. Given a human’s need for approximately 24 hours of sleep, Earth days would still be important for astronauts. But their definition, as well as the definition of the Moon standard, is something metrologists around the world still cannot agree on.

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