Life On Mars

It’s been 40 days and 40 nights since New Year’s– when we finally kicked 2020 to the curb.  And even though every person on this planet shouted “Goodbye and good riddance!” (I know I did) we’ve largely forgotten about it.  The hats have been thrown away, the champagne bottles recycled, and the resolutions … well … the resolutions really didn’t stand a chance this year, did they?  But not to worry.  You can renew those resolutions with a clean slate and a fresh start all this week– because last Sunday was also New Year’s Day – on Mars.

I’ll grant you, unless you’re a NASA scientist, it’s not something you think about, but now that you are, it definitely makes sense, doesn’t it?  After all, Mars has a different rotation from Earth and a different orbit around the sun, so our time – 24 hours/365 days – just doesn’t apply.  Actually, the Martian day, called a sol (pronunciation still in doubt) is 24 hours, 39 minutes long.  (That 43-minute difference is just enough to screw things up.)  And it takes Mars 687 days to get all the way around the sun – a Martian year.  So, since Mars has four seasons (just like us) a quick pen and paper calculation and you have 12 months (BTW, you can name them anything you want; nobody’s done that yet!) and there’s your Martian calendar.

Of course, none of this really mattered before we started sending our machines to Mars to have a look around.  But the minute we did, we discovered we needed a way to keep track of them: Earth time just wasn’t going to do it.  For example, right now in the Pacific Time Zone, it’s about 5:30 p.m. and the sun is going down, but on Mars (where the Rover is) that same sun is shining in the middle of the afternoon.  So far, so good.  But tomorrow (relative to me) Martian time is going to slide backwards 43 minutes, and it’ll do it again the next day, and the next.  By this time next month, me and Mars are going to be out of sync by nearly a whole day!  Oops!  So what NASA did was lengthen the Martian second by (approx.) 1.027.  Then they chose the Martian Spring Equinox as Day One of the Martian year. That allowed them to measure and schedule Martian time accurately from that fixed point.  (FYI, this is no different from Great Britain setting up Greenwich Mean Time in the 19th century, Pope Gregory XIII rebooting the calendar in 1582, or Julius Caesar naming the 7th month after himself when he was running the show.)  Anyway, for some reason (I can’t find out why) NASA decided to backdate Martian time to begin with Year Zero on Earth Year 1955.  That makes this Martian Year 36!

Ever since humans dropped out of the trees and looked up into the sky, the Red Planet has captured our imagination.  It’s our nearest celestial neighbour.  We can see it flickering red with the naked eye.  It has mysterious canals, polar ice caps, volcanos and canyons.  It’s been part of our literary culture for two centuries and part of our scientific world for nearly as long.  So, go ahead and celebrate the hell out of this Martian New Year — cuz the next one isn’t going to happen until December 26th 2022!

What Time Is It?


Our lives are governed by time – that artificial construct that measures everything we do.  We divide our days into minutes and hours.  We multiply our days by weeks and months.  And we commemorate our years with an annual cake-and-candles celebration.  We work by the clock, sleep by the clock, arrive and depart by the clock and even play games by the clock.  Our language is full of references to time.  We say things like “fast food,”  “running late,” “split second” and “give me a minute.”  These phrases mean more than their literal meaning and everybody understands that.  Yet, despite our apparent obsession with all things temporal, there are lots of occasions that we don’t bother to measure or even name.  These are regular events that happen to everyone, so it seems weird that we treat them so casually.  Here are just a few examples — and I’m sure the world would be a better place if they had names.  Feel free to offer suggestions!

The time we spend waiting for doctors.  Every doctor, from Boston to Beirut, has a waiting room, and it’s called a waiting room for a reason.  It’s where we go to wait until – I don’t know — your name comes up in the lottery?  And this doesn’t just happen once in a while – it’s every time.  Personally (given this kind of regularity) I think we should have a name for the time we all spend rehearsing our symptoms and looking at out-of-date magazines.

The length of time between when the repairman says:
“No problem!  We’ll get this taken care of in a couple of hours.”
“Nah!  We had to order the part from the manufacturer in Borneo, and we have no idea when it’s going to get here.”
There should be a name for that feeling of gathering doom.

The length of time it takes to get rid of a headache.  I guess we could just call it “to infinity and beyond” and get it over with.

The time between when we buy the gym membership (and swear by all that’s holy we’re going to go 3 times a week) and the time we take the membership card out of our wallets to make room for the Cupcake-of-the-Month card.

The time we spend in a traffic jam, between when every car within 10 kilometres (6.21 miles) slows down to a crawl, and when we discover that there was no road construction, no collision, no dead pedestrians: in fact, no reason whatsoever for traffic to come to a standstill.  Frustration should have a name.

The time we spend with the remote control, dancing through the Netflix’s selections, trying to find something really, really good to watch.

The time between now and never.  This is a negotiable unit of measure that lasts from the time we say something like, “I’ll never drink tequila, again” and the time we think “What the hell” and pull out the Jose Cuervo.

The time between when the computer guy (it’s always a guy) starts telling us what to do to fix the problem and the time we realize we don’t understand a word of this gibberish and start jamming the keyboard — like a Rhesus monkey looking for a food pellet.

But my favourite is:

That situation when something important is going to happen in the near future and we’re completely ready for it.  We’ve done all the prep, got dressed, gathered our stuff, been to the toilet, etc., etc., and now … and now ….  Suddenly, there’s not enough time to do anything but too much time to do nothing.  Seriously!  This needs a name.