One of the universe’s intriguing quirks is the variation in timekeeping: seconds pass slightly faster atop mountains than in valleys. While this discrepancy is negligible for daily life, it becomes crucial in the context of lunar exploration. As nations like the United States and China race to establish permanent lunar settlements, the need to address time differences on the moon has become urgent. On the lunar surface, an Earth day is about 56 microseconds shorter, which can lead to significant timekeeping inconsistencies over time.

Full Moon on Feb 24, 2024

NASA and its international partners are not just creating a new “time zone” for the moon but developing an entirely new “time scale” to account for the faster ticking seconds. This initiative aims to standardize lunar timekeeping across space-faring nations. A recent White House memo has directed NASA to devise plans for this lunar time scale by December 31 and implement it by the end of 2026, aligning with NASA’s goal to return astronauts to the moon after five decades.

For timekeepers, the next few months are crucial to establish accurate lunar timekeeping and international agreements on the placement of lunar clocks. Such a framework is essential for astronauts conducting surface explorations and scientific investigations, as precise timekeeping will be critical for navigation and communication on the moon. As Cheryl Gramling from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center emphasizes, “time needs to be relative to the moon” for effective lunar operations.

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