NASA to come up with new clock for Moon, where seconds tick away faster


National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has begun work to establish a separate time reference system for Earth’s satellite Moon. The new time reference system aims to ease the understanding of time difference for astronauts. This comes as exploration of the Moon increases by various space agencies globally. 

The initiative for a separate time zone began with White House sending a memo asking NASA to work with other US agencies to establish a time zone on Earth’s satellite, reports Guardian. According to the report, NASA has been granted time till 2026 to set up the Moon specific time zone, also being called Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC).

Moon has different time zone from Earth?

Moon has a lesser gravitational force than Earth. Therefore time on Moon moves quicker than on Earth. According to scientists, time on Moon moves 58.7 microseconds quicker every day – compared to Earth. 

The LTC, when established, will be used as a time-keeping benchmark for lunar spacecraft and satellites that require extreme precision for their missions.

“An atomic clock on the moon will tick at a different rate than a clock on Earth,” Kevin Coggins, NASA’s top communications and navigation official, told New York Post while talking about the project.

“It makes sense that when you go to another body, like the Moon or Mars that each one gets its own heartbeat,” he added.

How will LTC help astronauts on Moon, other Space Missions?

A Reuters report, published citing officials from US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), said that without LTC, it would be challenging to ensure that data transfers between spacecraft are secure and that communications among Earth, lunar satellites, bases and astronauts are synchronised.

The last time NASA sent astronauts to the moon they wore watches, but timing wasn’t as precise and critical as it now with GPS, satellites and intricate computer and communications systems, he said. Those microseconds matter when high tech systems interact, said Kevin Coggins, NASA’s top communications and navigation official.

Last year, the European Space Agency said Earth needs to come up with a unified time for the moon, where a day lasts 29.5 Earth days.

The International Space Station, being in low Earth orbit, will continue to use coordinated universal time or UTC. But just where the new space time kicks in is something that NASA has to figure out. Even Earth’s time speeds up and slows down, requiring leap seconds.

Challenges of establishing LTC

Developing LTC may require atomic clocks to be placed on the Moon. These clocks are used to measure time and time zones on Earth and are placed in different locations around the world.

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Published: 04 Apr 2024, 03:31 PM IST


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