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Time standard based on the slowing rotation of the Earth
Standard time zones of the world since 2016. The number at the bottom of each zone specifies the number of hours to add to UTC to convert it to the local time.
Standard time was originally proposed by Scottish-Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming at a meeting of the Canadian Institute in Toronto on 8 February 1879. He suggested that standard time zones could be used locally, but they were subordinate to his single world time, which he called Cosmic Time. The proposal divided the world into twenty-four time zones, each one covering 15 degrees of longitude. All clocks within each zone would be set to the same time as the others, but differed by one hour from those in the neighboring zones. The local time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich was announced as the recommended base reference for world time on 22 October 1884 at the end of the International Meridian Conference.[c] This location was chosen because by 1884 two-thirds of all nautical charts and maps already used it as their prime meridian. The conference did not adopt Fleming's time zones because they were outside the purpose for which it was called, which was to choose a basis for universal time (as well as a prime meridian).
During the period between 1848 and 1972, all of the major countries adopted time zones based on the Greenwich meridian.
In 1935, the term Universal Time was recommended by the International Astronomical Union as a more precise term than Greenwich Mean Time, because GMT could refer to either an astronomical day starting at noon or a civil day starting at midnight. In some countries, the term Greenwich Mean Time persists in common usage to this day in reference to civil timekeeping.
Based on the rotation of the Earth, time can be measured by observing celestial bodies crossing the meridian every day. Astronomers found that it was more accurate to establish time by observing stars as they crossed a meridian rather than by observing the position of the Sun in the sky. Nowadays, UT in relation to International Atomic Time (TAI) is determined by Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) observations of distant quasars, a method which can determine UT1 to within 15 microseconds or better.
An 1853 "Universal Dial Plate" showing the relative times of "all nations" before the adoption of universal time
The rotation of the Earth is somewhat irregular and also is very gradually slowing due to tidal acceleration. Furthermore, the length of the second was determined from observations of the Moon between 1750 and 1890. All of these factors cause the modern mean solar day, on the average, to be slightly longer than the nominal 86,400 SI seconds, the traditional number of seconds per day.[d] As UT is thus slightly irregular in its rate, astronomers introduced Ephemeris Time, which has since been replaced by Terrestrial Time (TT). Because Universal Time is determined by the Earth's rotation, which drifts away from more precise atomic-frequency standards, an adjustment (called a leap second) to this atomic time is needed since (as of 2019[update]) 'broadcast time' remains broadly synchronised with solar time.[e] Thus, the civil broadcast standard for time and frequency usually follows International Atomic Time closely, but occasionally step (or "leap") in order to prevent them from drifting too far from mean solar time.
Barycentric Dynamical Time (TDB), a form of atomic time, is now used in the construction of the ephemerides of the planets and other solar system objects, for two main reasons. First, these ephemerides are tied to optical and radar observations of planetary motion, and the TDB time scale is fitted so that Newton's laws of motion, with corrections for general relativity, are followed. Next, the time scales based on Earth's rotation are not uniform and therefore, are not suitable for predicting the motion of bodies in our solar system.
There are several versions of Universal Time:
UT0 is Universal Time determined at an observatory by observing the diurnal motion of stars or extragalactic radio sources, and also from ranging observations of the Moon and artificial Earth satellites. The location of the observatory is considered to have fixed coordinates in a terrestrial reference frame (such as the International Terrestrial Reference Frame) but the position of the rotational axis of the Earth wanders over the surface of the Earth; this is known as polar motion. UT0 does not contain any correction for polar motion. The difference between UT0 and UT1 is on the order of a few tens of milliseconds. The designation UT0 is no longer in common use.
UT1 is the principal form of Universal Time. While conceptually it is mean solar time at 0° longitude, precise measurements of the Sun are difficult. Hence, it is computed from determining the positions of distant quasars using long baseline interferometry, laser ranging of the Moon and artificial satellites, as well as the determination of GPS satellite orbits. UT1 is the same everywhere on Earth, and is proportional to the rotation angle of the Earth with respect to distant quasars, specifically, the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF), neglecting some small adjustments. The observations allow the determination of a measure of the Earth's angle with respect to the ICRF, called the Earth Rotation Angle (ERA, which serves as a modern replacement for Greenwich Mean Sidereal Time). UT1 is required to follow the relationship
ERA = 2?(0.7790572732640 + 1.00273781191135448Tu) radians
UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is an atomic timescale that approximates UT1. It is the international standard on which civil time is based. It ticks SI seconds, in step with TAI. It usually has 86,400 SI seconds per day but is kept within 0.9 seconds of UT1 by the introduction of occasional intercalary leap seconds. As of 2016[update], these leaps have always been positive (the days which contained a leap second were 86,401 seconds long). Whenever a level of accuracy better than one second is not required, UTC can be used as an approximation of UT1. The difference between UT1 and UTC is known as DUT1.
Adoption in various countries
The table shows the dates of adoption of time zones based on the Greenwich meridian, including half-hour zones.