Leap Year Day 2/29/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Ask most people how many days are in a year and they’ll answer 365. The more correct answer is 365 ¼ days. We lose that quarter of a year most years and find ourselves a full day behind every fourth year. Hence, leap year when we tack one day onto February to make up for this shortfall.

The first leap year was 1752. This same year, there was a weak and a half with no crime, no death, no disease, nothing bad happening at all. Well, nothing good happened either, because the Gregorian calendar was moved ahead by 11 days. They were simply lost in time. Pope Gregory XIII introduced his Gregorian Calendar in 1582, intending it to replace the Julian Calendar which was implemented by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. The Julian calendar miscalculated the solar year, apparently, by 11 minutes according to the History Channel (which is interesting because the Gregorian Calendar miscalculated it by 6 hours). I need to remember to take a peek at a Julian calendar at some point to see how it looked since it couldn’t be arranged as the Gregorian Calendar is. This isn’t unusual, the Aztec calendar was similarly unique counting (in a circular arrangement).

The lost time was important to the church because the Equinox was moving further away from spring, which, no doubt, was throwing off Easter. My sister took some kind of special course in high school, basically teaching the technical skills needed to be an administrative assistant. At the end of the course, she once told me, the teacher suggested that the entire class meet for a reunion in ten years, specifically on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring.

“So, Easter,” I said.

Yes, this is how Easter is calculated. Losing a quarter day each year means that the true spring Equinox is moving away from the calendar. With the advent of the leap year, this problem was alleviated. The earth actually orbits the sun once every 365.256 years, so even a leap year every fourth year is not entirely correct. However, with the leap year as defined, we only lose 8.64 minutes each yearn or 3 days every 500 years. I guess we’ll have to make another adjustment eventually, but few people will notice this difference in their lifetime.

Here’s an interesting tidbit. I believe most people know that one year is one complete circle around the sun, except of course for the “flat earthers” who I can’t really take seriously anyway. It used to be believed that it was in fact the Earth that stood still, as the center of the universe, and all other celestial bodies revolve around it. In fact, the earth is the center of the universe.

Or, perhaps more correctly, the earth could be the center of the universe. In astrology (or astronomy, my sign never could keep the two terms straight) it’s not so difficult to find the actual center of the universe. All major celestial bodies (all galaxies) are moving out in approximately straight lines. Plot the path of these galaxies, and extrapolate back to their start point and, lo and behold, we see they all started from the same point which is supposed to be by astrophysicists the location of the “Big Bang”. From here, we have smaller bodies circling larger bodies (such as the moon circles the earth, and the earth circles the sun, and the sun circles the center of the Milky Way, and the Milky Way circles the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and, oh, wait, no, too far). All of the equations of celestial motion, with this assumption, fall out naturally and easily. But who is to say that the center is that one point? In fact, we can assume any center of the universe that we please, such as Betty White. The center of the Universe is Betty White. The problem, then, is that the equations become very complicated with this defined center. The moon orbiting Betty White is still pretty simple, a nice circle. But now, instead of Betty White, standing on the Earth, orbiting the sun, we have to write and equation of the Sun circling Betty White (after all, she is the most attractive item in the entire universe, so it’s not completely unrealistic). This might seem trivial, but it’s really not. See, we can draw an equation for an orbit as a circle, but this circle will then have to incorporate some form of “wobble” to account for the seasons (sometimes the sun is higher in the sky on midday, and sometimes it’s lower). This Betty White Centric model of the motion of the bodies gives rise to “retrograde” planets, meaning that as, say, Venus is traveling across the hemisphere, from one day to the next it might appear to “backtrack” on itself and form a loop. This is easy to explain with the center of the universe defined as the center of the universe, but the mathematics with our model just become nightmarish.

And I’ve certainly gotten way off of topic. So, we can call today a “redo”. It won’t happen again until 2024, so enjoy your extra quarter of a day. I need to get some sleep.

2 thoughts on “Leap Year Day 2/29/20

  1. What I don’t understand is how days and seasons stay in place when we don’t acknowledge the 1/4 day every year? Also, how do we keep our hours, minutes, and seconds the same? I would think 12 midnight would be some time during the day by now, and summer would be where autumn is.
    (BTW, in your 1st paragraph you write the word, year, when it should have been day.)


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