Time to flip the switch

Daylight saving time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday. It could be one of the last times we switch the clocks after the Senate approved a measure called the Sunshine Protection Act back in March. The bill would make daylight saving time permanent starting in 2023. The bill needs to be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the president.

Since 2015, about 30 states have introduced legislation to end the twice-yearly changing of clocks, with some states proposing to do it only if neighboring states do the same.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who introduced the Sunshine Protection Act, suggested it would reduce crime, encourage kids to play outside and lower the risk of heart attacks and car accidents.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the issue last spring, where Rep. Frank Pallone, the committee’s chairman, said, “The loss of that one hour of sleep seems to impact us for days afterwards. It also can cause havoc on the sleeping patterns of our kids and our pets.”

Pallone backs ending the clock-switching but has not decided whether to support daylight or standard time as the permanent choice.

At the hearing, Beth Malow, director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Division, argued that daylight saving time makes it harder to be alert in the morning, saying it “is like living in the wrong time zone for almost eight months out of the year.”

But the research is mixed overall, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine supports the opposite switch, to permanent standard time, given research showing that our bodies function best with more sunlight in the morning.

Note: In California, Senate Bill 328 went into effect this year and requires high schools to begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and middle schools no earlier than 8 a.m.

Let’s talk time

With the clocks turning back, you will gain 3,600 seconds of the day. Not much when you consider there are 86,400 seconds in a day.The first clocks to have a second hand appeared in the 1750s.

Take an eon

In formal usage, eons are the longest portions of geologic time (eras are the second-longest). Three eons are recognized: the Phanerozoic (dating from the present back to the beginning of the Cambrian Period), the Proterozoic and the Archean. Less formally, eon often refers to a span of 1 billion years.

The following four calculations are from National Park Service geologists:

String time

If a piece of string an inch long represents one year, then 6 feet is equivalent to the average lifetime of a person living in the U.S. A string representing all of recorded human history would be 1.6 miles long. And a piece of string representing the age of Earth would be 72,600 miles long. That length of string could wrap around Earth three times.

Buying time

Let’s say a quarter represents each year of Earth’s history. A stack of 4.6 billion quarters would be more than 5,000 miles high. Such a stack could reach from where you are through the center of Earth and halfway to the other side.

Giving time a hand

Spread your arms wide. With the span of your arms representing all geologic time, look at one hand: Your fingertips represent the formation of Earth and the beginning of geologic time. Now look at your other hand: The Cambrian Period begins in the wrist area of this hand, and the Permian extinction is at the other end of the palm. The Cenozoic Era is in a fingerprint, and with a single stroke of a nail file, you eradicate human history.

Geologic time scale as a calendar year

Geologic time began ticking when Earth formed about 4.6 billion years ago. Scaling this large amount of time to our calendar year, each of the 12 months represents 383 million years (4.6 billion ÷ 12). Generally speaking, each year has 365 days, so each day represents 12.6 million years on our geologic calendar. Each day has 24 hours, so one hour represents 525,114 “geologic years.” Each hour has 60 minutes, so one minute represents 8,752 “geologic years.” Finally, each minute has 60 seconds, so each “geologic second” represents 146 years.

Scaled to the geologic calendar, here are some geologic “holidays”:

Jan. 1: Formation of Earth

Feb. 13: Formation of oldest known rocks

March 27: First recorded forms of life

Nov. 19: Cambrian “explosion” of hard-shelled life forms

Nov. 23: Life moves onto land (Ordovician Period)

Nov. 26: First mass extinction (end of Ordovician)

Dec. 3: Second mass extinction (end of Devonian Period)

Dec. 12: Third and greatest mass extinction of all time (end of Permian Period)

Dec. 15: Fourth mass extinction (Triassic Period)

Dec. 15: Dinosaurs become dominant

Dec. 19: Fifth and most famous mass extinction; dinosaurs become extinct

Dec. 19: Flowering plants begin to cover the landscape

Dec. 31: Pleistocene ice ages (last 3 hours and 26 minutes)

Dec. 31, 11:38 pm: Homo sapiens (modern humans) appear

Dec. 31, 11:59 pm: Beginning of the geologic time in which we live (Holocene Epoch)

Done in a jiffy

4.6 billion years is a lot of eons, so here’s something scientific that’s much faster. A jiffy is a measurement in electronics, computing, astrophysics and quantum physics. In physics, it is roughly the time it takes light to travel 1 centimeter in a vacuum, approximately 33.3564 picoseconds (a picosecond is one-trillionth of a second).

Sources: The Associated Press, Timeanddate.com, National Park Service, NBC News, National Conference of State Legislatures, California Legislature

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