New Year’s in Space & Time

Marianne Dyson January 2017

When does the new year begin? It depends on where you live! When my grandfather’s clock rang in the new year in Houston, it was already 7 PM on January 1 for folks in New Zealand while friends in Hawaii still had four hours to wait.

The space station crew use universal time, so their new year began when it was midnight in Greenwich, England (and 6 PM the day before in Houston). They celebrated by decorating cookies, taking photos of Earth, and sending a video greeting. [Ref.]

How might lunar pioneers ring in the new year? Will they sing Auld Lang Syne and drop a ball like they do in New York’s Time Square? If they want to use their family grandfather’s clock imported from Earth, they’ll have to adjust the pendulum to keep proper time in low lunar gravity. (My son the engineer suggests adding a tension spring.) Maybe they will just celebrate the new year “live” (actually 1.28 seconds time lagged) while they sip champagne and discuss how the bubbles are bigger and rise more slowly than on Earth?

If they are Chinese, they may postpone the celebration to the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. This year that falls on Saturday, January 28. [Ref.] They will likely wish friends 新年快樂 (xin nian kuai le) which is literally, new year happy and offer them red envelopes of “luck” money. They’d need fireworks with their own oxygen source since there’s no air on the Moon, or maybe they’d just go with red lanterns for safety reasons. They might also beat drums (indoors where you could hear them!) and perform dragon and lion dances which would be very cool in low gravity!

Red Dragon Eggs on Mars?

The new year on Mars begins at the vernal (spring) equinox when the Sun crosses its equatorial plane going north—making the day and night of equal lengths. Because Mars year 1 was (arbitrarily) set on April 11, 1955, and a year on Mars is 669 sols (each 24 hr. and 37 min.), it is currently Year 33 on Mars. Year 34 (Sol 1, Month 1) begins when it is May 5, 2017 on Earth. [Ref. Planetary Society.]

What might Martians do to celebrate their new year? Fireworks would have to be rocket-based like on the Moon because the atmosphere of Mars lacks oxygen for burning. Dropping a ball would also have to be adjusted for the lower gravity. Red dragons would be appropriate on Mars—especially if Elon Musk is there since he has named his Mars spacecraft the Red Dragon! But because the new year coincides with the start of spring in the northern hemisphere, perhaps New Year’s celebrations will adopt some of the trappings of spring festivals on Earth?

I therefore suggest a red “Easter” egg hunt with coins or candy inside “dragon” eggs. Red eggs would celebrate new life (and good fortune) on the “lucky” red planet. Instead of being delivered by a rabbit, the eggs might be hidden by The Great Martian Galactic Ghoul! (The Galactic Ghoul subsists on a diet of Mars probes. The phrase was coined by Time Magazine journalist Donald Neff in 1997.) What might the Ghoul look like?

However, wherever, or whenever you celebrate the start of a new year, may it be a happy one for you!

Writing about Space

My article, “Reducing the Risk of Long Duration Spaceflight,” which appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Ad Astra magazine, is now available free online. I have an article on Terraforming Mars in the upcoming spring issue of the magazine published by the National Space Society.

My latest science fiction novelette, Europa’s Survivors, will be in the March-April 2017 issue of Analog. Get your subscription (bimonthly print or eBook) now so you won’t miss it!

Speaking about Space

Watch my website Contact Page for appearance updates & Twitter for photos.

Saturday, January 14, speaking at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at Rice University.

Thursday, January 26. “The Business of Writing.” 7 pm. Bay Area Writers League. Clear Lake Park (5001 NASA Road One, Seabrook). Free and open to the public.

Tuesday, January 31. 7 PM. Attending (and volunteer for) Exploration Green Open House meeting. Clear Lake United Methodist Church. Free and open to the public. Come and learn about this amazing nonprofit project to convert our old golf course into a beautiful park.