What time is it on the moon? Scientists are pushing for an agreement

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — With more lunar missions than ever on the horizon, the European Space Agency wants to give the moon its own time zone.

This week, the agency said space agencies around the world are considering how best to keep time on the moon. The idea came up during a meeting in the Netherlands late last year, where participants agreed on the urgent need to establish “a common lunar reference time,” said the space agency’s Pietro Giordano, a navigation systems engineer.

“A joint international effort is now being launched to achieve this,” Giordano said in a statement.

Currently, a lunar mission runs on the time of the country operating the spacecraft. European space officials said an internationally accepted lunar time zone would make things easier for everyone, especially as more countries and even private companies aim for the moon and NASA is set to send astronauts there.

NASA had to deal with the issue of time during the design and construction of the International Space Station, quickly approaching the 25th anniversary of the launch of the first piece.

Although the space station does not have its own time zone, it runs on Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, which is meticulously based on atomic clocks. It helps split the time difference between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, and the other collaborative space programs in Russia, Japan and Europe.

The international lunar timekeeping team is debating whether a single organization should set and maintain time on the moon, according to the European Space Agency.

There are also technical issues to consider. Clocks run faster on the moon than on Earth, advancing about 56 microseconds each day, the space agency said. Further complicating matters, ticks occur differently on the lunar surface than in lunar orbit.

Perhaps most importantly, lunar time must be convenient for astronauts there, noted the space agency’s Bernhard Hufenbach. NASA is shooting for its first flight to the moon with astronauts in more than half a century in 2024, with a lunar landing as early as 2025.

“This will be quite a challenge” with each day lasting as long as 29.5 Earth days, Hufenbach said in a statement. “However, having established a working time system for the Moon, we can continue to do the same for other planetary destinations.”

Mars Standard Time, anyone?

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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