Should the Moon have its own time zones? The ESA believes so

European Space Agency's suggestions were made for implementing time zones on the Moon.
Christopher McFadden
Moon needs timezones, says ESA.
Moon needs timezones, says ESA.


During a meeting at the European Space Agency's ESTEC technology center, reports Endgadget, in the Netherlands last year, proposals were made to implement a standard time zone for the moon. This is because people are again interested in returning to the nearest celestial body.

At present, public and private bodies are working on returning to the moon in different parts of the world and in different time zones. This can make it harder for people planning their missions to the moon over the next few years to work together.

Here on Earth, time zones are determined based on the rotation of the planet, which takes approximately 24 hours to complete one full rotation on its axis. The Moon, on the other hand, rotates on its axis at a much slower rate and takes approximately 27.3 days to complete one rotation.

As a result, the concept of time zones, which are based on the Earth's rotation, does not apply to the Moon. However, many nations on Earth use coordinated universal time (UTC) as a foundation for their time zones, and astronauts who work on the Moon frequently use this as a standard reference.

At a meeting, people from space organizations discussed how important and urgent it was to set a standard lunar reference time. In a new announcement, ESA navigation system engineer Pietro Giordano said a "joint international effort is now being launched towards achieving this."

Different space groups still use their time zones for two-way communications and onboard clocks. According to the ESA, this "will not be sustainable" in the new age of lunar exploration. When multiple missions from different countries are on the moon simultaneously, they will make observations together. They may need to talk to each other even if they are not working together.

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However, choosing and observing moon time will present a particular set of difficulties. The international group of space organizations will have to talk about several things. For example, they will have to decide if one organization should be in charge of keeping the moon's time zone accurate because, as the ESA says, "accurate navigation requires strict timekeeping."

Also, the moon's clocks run faster depending on the satellite's location, so they must decide if they should keep lunar time in sync with Earth's. They have a lot to think about, but whatever they come up with ultimately needs to be useful for astronauts orbiting or walking on the lunar surface.

Bernhard Hufenbach, a member of the ESA's Moonlight Management Team, said, "This will be quite a challenge on a planetary surface where in the equatorial region, each day is 29.5 days long, including freezing fortnight-long lunar nights, with the whole Earth, just a small blue circle in the dark sky."