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Why NASA is inventing a new clock for the moon where seconds tick faster than Earth

NASA has until 2026 to establish a unified lunar time standard known as Coordinated Lunar Time (CLT).

Why NASA is inventing a new clock for the moon where seconds tick faster than Earth
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay; The Independent | Kevin Coggins

NASA is renowned for innovations that have changed the world. According to a White House memo, they are creating a new time standard for the moon with clocks that move faster than on Earth, per The Independent. The US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) asked NASA to make a moon-centric time reference system according to its different gravitational forces.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Bruno Scramgnon
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Bruno Scramgnon

This lunar time system differs significantly from Earth's time zones. It establishes a complete framework of time reference unique to the moon. Due to the moon's lower gravity, time moves slightly faster—58.7 microseconds faster each day than on Earth, according to CBS42. So, the White House has asked NASA and other US agencies to work with international agencies to create a new moon-centric time reference system.

NASA must establish a unified lunar time standard, dubbed Coordinated Lunar Time (CLT), by 2026. It is meant to be used by astronauts, spacecraft, and satellites that need accurate timekeeping. Kevin Coggins, NASA's top communications and navigation official, said, "An atomic clock on the moon will tick at a different rate than a clock on Earth. It makes sense that when you go to another body, like the moon or Mars each one gets its heartbeat."

Representative Image Source: Pexels | RDNE Stock Project
Representative Image Source: Pexels | RDNE Stock Project

When NASA last sent astronauts to the moon, they relied on watches for timing—a method far less accurate than today's GPS, satellite, and advanced computer and communications systems. Coggins said that those microseconds matter when high-tech systems interact. Reportedly, last year, the European Space Agency said Earth requires a unified time for the moon, where a day is 29.5 Earth days. However, as the International Space Station is in low Earth orbit, it will still be using coordinated universal time or UTC. But just where the new space-time kicks in is something that NASA has to work on.


Coggins said that the moon will not have daylight saving time. The LTC is needed by the time NASA launches its first crewed missions to the moon, which is part of the Artemis program. It wants to have a permanent human presence there before the end of the decade. NASA is hoping to send astronauts around the moon in September 2025 and land people there a year later. Other countries that have plans to send people to the lunar surface are China and India. According to the European Space Agency estimates, the moon missions mean the lunar economy will be about £120 billion by 2040.

It is surreal to see Earth from space. On a similar note, Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, had described watching the infinite space and the Earth from the moon. In an interview with BBC in 1997, he said, "The sky is deep black when viewed from the moon as when viewed from cislunar space, the space between the Earth and the moon." He further explained that the Earth and the sun were the only visible objects he could see from the moon. Armstrong went on to describe how the Earth looked. "The Earth is quite beautiful from space. It looks quite small and remote but very blue and covered with white lines and clouds," he said. When asked about the sun, he said, "The glare from the sun on the helmet visor was too difficult to pick up the corner. The only time we could see the corona was when we were flying from the moon's shadow."

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