Thursday, September 06, 2007


In my last piece about “Live from the Moon”, the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed a precise time given for when the TV photograph I took of the Lunar Module blasted off the Moon on the Apollo 11 mission – 21st July 1969 at 17.54 UTC. Being British, I failed to understand why it wasn't Greenwich Mean Time, so I looked up the provenance of this rather renegade Division 2 Time Zone the Yanks had used.

As always in these things, there’s more to it than you’d think of at first sight. UTC actually stands for Coordinated Universal Time, and is a highly accuracy Atomic based time Standard. It starts out as a base using International Atomic Time and (pay attention at the back) includes the provision for and use of leap seconds which take account of the way the earth is gradually slowing down, as well as, rather worryingly, “other discrepancies”.

All the Time zones around the world are given a negative or positive off-set to this base, so the really important ones, like GMT, can still hold their head up high.

As a demonstration, however, of the utter childishness of some people in these things, you ask yourself – “Why is it called UTC, when its expanded title is Coordinated Universal Time – CUT?”.

The answer apparently, involves, inevitably you will understand, The French.

The name was being decided by the International Telecommunications Union, who wanted this new concept of Coordinated Universal Time to have the same Acronymic abbreviation in all languages. Fair enough, you’d have thought.

However, les Grenouilles and the other 95% of the people making the decision ie the English speaking lot, both wanted the acronym which resulted from their own language to be the one which was to be used internationally. This would have resulted in either CUT for our mob - “Coordinated Universal Time”, or TUC for the French, where time seemed to run backwards – “Temps Universel Coordonne”.

It seems to be lost in the sands of time (GMT, that is) why the Brits and the Yanks didn’t play one down the blind side and slide a double headed Half Crown or Dollar into the proceedings and offer to toss the French for it. Perhaps the English delegation included too many cricket players.

Anyway, to keep everyone (actually no-one really) happy, the bright sparks who were there decided to call it UTC. I bet when the French launch their rockets, it's called TUC.



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