The word that rules the world

Could you go one day without looking at a clock or asking what time it is? 

Do you know what this is?


Photo: courtesy Kerzenuhr

One of the 1st pocket watches!


Photo: courtesy Henlein Taschenuhr

An illusion?


Many scientists today believe that time is an illusion.

THIS little word is only four letters long [in English]. When you wake up at the morning, you want to know it.  It is on your phone, on your arm, in your room, on city streets: clocks telling us the TIME are everywhere! How many times each day do you look to see what time it is? 

     From almost the beginning of human existence [life], people knew there was time because they saw the sun move and they saw the changing shapes of the moon. They wanted to measure this movement. Different cultures did it in different ways. There were candle clocks, incense clocks, sundials, and hour glasses. Later, there were different kinds of electrical and mechanical clocks, and astronomical clocks. The most accurate clock today is the atomic clock. 

    But how did people measure time long ago?  In ancient Egypt, people invented the first clock almost 6000 years ago. It was the sundial. Later, people started using water and candle clocks. These clocks could tell you the time at night or on a cloudy day. 

     In the late 1200s, people in Europe invented the first mechanical clocks [with moving parts].  The first mechanical clocks did not show minutes and seconds, just hours. The invention of the minute hand and second hand came later. But none of these were totally accurate. 

     In our time, scientists learned how to measure the speed of light and made it the standard of time. And what a big surprise they had when they found that the speed of light was different in different regions of space!    Scientists also know that time has “speed”.  But it is very hard to explain. The best way to think about it, is to think of times when you are with a friend and the time goes by really fast—and then think about times in a boring class when the time goes by really slowly!  

     There is one thing that does not feel the passing of time.  It is a sub atom [something smaller than an atom]. So, if sub atoms do not know time, then a time travel machine is not science fiction. And did you know that there was a time when space and time did not exist?  It was before the “Big Bang” 13.7 billion years ago when our universe started. For all these reasons, many scientists believe that maybe time is an illusion.  

     But for us humans, time has gone on, goes on, and will go on!  When you stop reading this story, look at a clock, any clock, and just imagine how complicated it is! 

                                   Until next “time”  — DR. SURPRISE


     1.  One day lasts not 24 hours—but 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds. Because of this, we have a leaping year [leap year].

     2.  When we look at the stars, we are looking at the “past”. When we see a star, it actually disappeared billions of years ago!  When that star first appeared, we did not see it, because of the huge distance from it to us. The star’s light had to travel to us a long, long, LONG time.  By the time its light reached earth, the star you saw was already gone.

     3.  One year equals 31,536,000 seconds. 

     4.  A day on Mars lasts 24 hours, 37 minutes, and 22.663 seconds.

     5.  Every 31 million years, an atomic clock will be off by 1 second.

     6.  Because of how the sun and moon affect our planet (slow it down), when dinosaurs were alive, a day was 23 hours long.

     7.  Daylight Savings Time.  In the late 1700s, when Benjamin Franklin was the American envoy [representative] in France, he once wrote a letter to a newspaper as a joke. (He did not sign his name to the letter.)  He wrote that if the people of Paris moved their clocks one hour ahead in the spring, and one hour back in the fall, they would save 64 million pounds of candle wax each year.  [You can read Ben’s letter HERE.]  But actually, the ancient Romans changed their water clocks several times during different months in the year.  In 1916, Germany was the first country to use Daylight Savings Time as we know it today.

     8.  Until the 1800s, every small town or village had its “own time”.  People set their clocks to when the sun was at its “high noon” in their area. In the mid 1800s, when more and more people traveled on trains within their countries and between countries, there came to be national and international time zones.


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 ©InterestEng. July 2013  §  The stories in the magazine portion of the site are written by English language learners. Stories are corrected by a native English speaker.  § Photos are staff or used with permission.  §  To contact us: