Fun facts about time zones you didn’t know
As you know, travelling around the world means that you sometimes have to set your watch backwards or forwards depending on whether you are flying West or East.
The way it works in general is that you add an hour to your watch as you travel East and turn your watch back an hour when travelling West.
This seems like a pretty straightforward system but it does have some interesting quirks that we will be exploring in this article. For example, did you know that one 300 x 80 metre island has not one but two time zones? We bet you didn’t.
Being a provider of calls to countries all of the world from Pakistan to South America, we’ve been fascinated by these time zone quirks for a long time. After all, no one wants to be the person that accidentally calls their grandma in India at three in the morning.
Here are some of the things you probably didn’t know about how the system works:
England is the centre of everything
A bold statement to make but, in the case of determining the time of the country you are in, a true one.
Earth is covered in a series of arbitrary horizontal lines that segment the planet into zones, where the time increases in hourly increments the more of these zones you cross. The starting point for this is Greenwich, England. A line runs through Greenwich, which is the starting point from which all of the others are measured from.
Many countries have multiple time zones
Russia has a massive eleven time zones – This means that travellers in the region need to be extra vigilant when travelling east, as you’ll be skipping ahead quite a few hours.
Vladimir Putin, the country’s current Numero Uno, has officially abolished two of them recently though in an attempt to bring the country more in line with Moscow and other major cities.
The US is another country with multiple time zones, which means that there is three hours difference between Seattle and Boston.
Two islands only 2.4 miles apart are on different days
That’s incredible isn’t it? However, it’s true; travelling around the world and gaining an hour after each zone is going to end in only one way, you’ll eventually end up where you started, but then what happens?
There are some really interesting examples of places separated by what we call the International Date Line. This line is on the other side of the world from the Greenwich Prime Meridian, exactly opposite in fact, and it is where one day turns into the next (or vice versa if you’re coming the other way).
Confused yet? It gets even trickier to get your head around.
Two islands in the Bering Strait are 21 hours apart from each other, despite being only 2.4 miles apart. This is because the International Date Line separates them. These are the Diomede Islands and one belongs to Russia and the other belongs to the US.
Theoretically, it’s possible to walk between the two islands due to an ice bridge that forms in winter. So, you could technically be going backwards or forwards in time with a walk of less than an hour. Beat that Doctor Who!
Timezones can even separate people at county level
Before 2005, the US state of Indiana decreed that the individual counties could decide whether or not they wanted to observe DST (Daylight Savings Time). This meant that you could drive through the state and be skipping backwards and forwards in time. We bet that was confusing.
Sometimes, countries just don’t follow the same logic
Spain is one of these countries; they are directly below the UK and, technically, should be on the same time zone, as they are in line with the Prime Meridian. However, they chose to be on the same time zone as mainland Europe.
Also, if you walk around the North Pole, you can cover all 24 time zones in less than a minute theoretically.
Border crossing can send you backwards or forwards in time as well. For example, you jump 3.5 hours when you cross the border between China and Afghanistan.
For two hours a day, Earth experiences three days simultaneously
Every day, between 10:00 and 11:59 UTC, three days are experienced across the planet. When it’s 10:15am in England on a Thursday for example, it is still Wednesday in Samoa but very early Friday morning in Kiritimali.
It’s an interesting phenomenon that only occurs for just under two hours a day.
So there you have it, time zones are arbitrary lines across the earth but very important in regulating how the world works; working with political, social and legal borders to make sure everyone is running on the right time.