Martian Watches
January 9, 2004 3:28 PM   Subscribe

24:39 NASA is running their Spirit Martian explorer program on Martian solar time. With the project day running 39 minutes longer than a real day, engineers found they faced difficulties adjusting to this virtual timezone. Their solution was nearly as old as timekeeping itself.
posted by Ogre Lawless (12 comments total)
damnit, mars get all the fun.
posted by mrplab at 4:05 PM on January 9, 2004

From the article: The martian day is longer than Earth's [...]. Every day, team members are reporting to work 39 minutes later than the previous day.

When I think about it, 39 minutes is about the time I feel I'm short of every day. On Monday I'll tell my boss at work and family that from now on I'm on Mars time!

In order to make the watches useful to the Mars Exploration Rover team, Garo had to physically attach additional specific lead weights thus precisely altering the movement of the wheels and hands on certain existing famous-maker wristwatches.

While I admire the guy's persistence, wouldn't it have been easier to just write a PC or Palm Pilot application?
posted by Triplanetary at 5:23 PM on January 9, 2004

That's a really cool f--kin' story.

Triplanetary--I think that understanding what time it is is only half the problem--the other half is the humans on the planet have to resync themselves every day to Mars time, and they each need personal clocks to do so. And seriously, Palm apps aren't actually that convenient. The wristwatch is still fundamentally better designed.
posted by jengod at 5:55 PM on January 9, 2004

This 39-minute daily difference is the basis of the title for Philip K. Dick's Martian Time-Slip, in case you ever pondered its meaning. In Red Mars and sequels, Kim Stanley Robinson posited his colonists following Dick's lead and creating a 39-minute untimed "slip" between days. Naturally, as this current scientific mission shows, this isn't necessarily realistic (wreaking havoc with instrumentation alone). Note that a rover mission, unlike earlier lander or orbiter missions, practically requires daytime operation -- which is why this is the first time it's really come up.

See The Social Construction of Time on Mars for much, much more on these lines.
posted by dhartung at 7:22 PM on January 9, 2004

Nice story, great links, y'all. An extra 40 (rather than approximately 39.5) minutes would have made it exactly 1/36 longer than an earth day.
posted by carter at 7:54 PM on January 9, 2004

Why not a digital watch that is software controlled. Seems a lot easier and cheaper.
posted by stbalbach at 9:24 PM on January 9, 2004

But not nearly as cool.
posted by 4easypayments at 11:55 PM on January 9, 2004

is this really the best use of our resources and attention? seems like we (WE) have a few problems to solve at home before we start investing in vacations ...
posted by specialk420 at 11:56 PM on January 9, 2004

Fascinating and frustrating.


1. Why is it important to know the time on Mars for the mission? Is this somehow needed to know what the rover can do when? When we on Earth can communicate with the rover?

2. How do they synchronize the time on Mars? Sure, one has a watch on Earth but some calculation must be made to set the time, right? Or is the rover somehow aware of what time it is on Mars?


Of course a watch can be made to track any selected time -- mechanically or not. It is not "impossible" just potentially costly. And personally, I don't think 10 seconds in 24 hours is accurate at all -- even for a mechanical watch -- although maybe it is for an agency that likes to mix English and Metric units. ;-)
posted by Dick Paris at 12:06 PM on January 10, 2004

Maybe this answers part of my question.
posted by Dick Paris at 12:51 PM on January 10, 2004

Not at all the first time this has really come up. Same stories abound back in 97 with pathfinder.
posted by benh57 at 3:56 PM on January 10, 2004

Their solution was nearly as old as timekeeping itself

I haven't read the story yet, but my guess is drugs. It's drugs, isn't it?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:19 PM on January 10, 2004

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