Time Zones

Jason Harris

The Earth is round, and it is always half-illuminated by the Sun. However, because the Earth is spinning, the half that is illuminated is always changing. We experience this as the passing of days wherever we are on the Earth's surface. At any given instant, there are places on the Earth passing from the dark half into the illuminated half (which is seen as dawn on the surface). At the same instant, on the opposite side of the Earth, points are passing from the illuminated half into darkness (which is seen as dusk at those locations). So, at any given time, different places on Earth are experiencing different parts of the day. Thus, Solar time is defined locally, so that the clock time at any location describes the part of the day consistently.

This localization of time is accomplished by dividing the globe into 24 vertical slices called Time Zones. The Local Time is the same within any given zone, but the time in each zone is one Hour earlier than the time in the neighboring Zone to the East. Actually, this is a idealized simplification; real Time Zone boundaries are not straight vertical lines, because they often follow national boundaries and other political considerations.

Note that because the Local Time always increases by an hour when moving between Zones to the East, by the time you move through all 24 Time Zones, you are a full day ahead of where you started. We deal with this paradox by defining the International Date Line, which is a Time Zone boundary in the Pacific Ocean, between Asia and North America. Points just to the East of this line are 24 hours behind the points just to the West of the line. This leads to some interesting phenomena. A direct flight from Australia to California arrives before it departs. Also, the islands of Fiji straddle the International Date Line, so if you have a bad day on the West side of Fiji, you can go over to the East side of Fiji and have a chance to live the same day all over again.