Marking the End of Time

I’m not an expert on the Mayan calendar, but sometimes you just need to exercise a little logic to know that you are right.
On one of the popular TV shows, one of the hosts said that the Mayan calendar measured time with the precision of an atomic clock. Below are pictures of a Mayan calendar and an atomic clock.
The Mayan calendar is a crudely carved rock; the atomic clock is a precisely constructed machine that includes intricate electronics and measuring devices. Does it seem reasonable that these two devices are equally accurate?

Mayan calendar

An example of a Mayan calendar. It’s smallest unit of time is a day

Atomic clock in Switzerland

Atomic clock has the accuracy of plus or minus one second in 30 million years.

Of course it’s not fair to judge the Mayan calendar by its looks. In fact the carved stone is not the calendar but a symbol of it. The calendar is determined by observing the procession of heavenly bodies through the sky.

A heavenly body, a six from Battlestar Galactica

A Heavenly Body Where a Six Rates Higher than a Ten

Still the smallest unit on the Mayan calendar is days and the atomic clock can measure roughly 9 ten-billionths of a second. Which one would you time a NASCAR race with? Or an Olympic 100 meter dash? Or even the New York Marathon?
I dare say that a good old Roman sundial would surpass a Mayan calendar in measuring these events, and so would an hourglass, a water clock, or just about any device used to measure any increment of time shorter than a day.

Interesting perspective of an hourglass

An interesting perspective of an hourglass where the sand below is the past; above, the future; in the waist, the present.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that a Mayan calendar keeps better track of days, years and epics than a Julian calendar, or a Gregorian calendar. The statement is ambiguous. Do we mean the Mayan 240 day calendar or the Mayan 365 day calendar? We could throw in a 584 day Venetian calendar as well. Any calendar that moves July into the dead of winter isn’t going to work. Everyone knew that, whether Mayan, Roman, or Medieval, and they all adjusted their count to make the solstices dependable so the villagers wouldn’t get confused and think it was snowing in the middle of summer. For the Gregorian calendar that means an extra day in leap years. If I remember correctly, the Mayan calendar occasionally requires a group of celebration days to get back into adjustment. Of interest and significance the Mayan short and long calendar have a common multiple every 52 years, thereby completing a cycle. [An interesting recital of Mesoamerican legend with calendar references is Tony Shearer’s Lord of the Dawn>.]
The current Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012.
Will it be the end of life on Earth? If so, how will it end?
Answer the following poll and we’ll see what the majority thinks.

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3 Responses to Marking the End of Time

  1. Pingback: how to make a solar cell

  2. admin says:

    Julie, I have been thinking of writing a story about a gamma ray burster event. Bart stalls under the Bay. Everyone is pissed, and then a bit disturbed when they hike out toward Oakland with a gang of homies following and cursing because they missed the baseball game had planned on seeing in SF. When they emerge at Oakland West there is no one–alive.
    A good story, but we would have to be extremely unlucky to have it happen in our life time.

  3. julie says:

    December 21st I will be going to San Francisco to babysit. If the world is about to end, I hope there is some hint so I’m not caught under the Bay in a BART train with a bunch of strangers. Not the way I envision going out.

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