What's a Year? Why Not Just 100 Days?

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What's a Year? Why Not Just 100 Days?

Xah Lee, 2011-02-14

How long is a year? What makes a season? What's Equinox? What's “Tropic of Cancer” and “Tropic of Capricorn” you see on maps such as Google Earth.

Why is there so many different calendars from so many old civilizations? For example, you hear about Chinese year, Gregorian calendar, Hebrew calendar, islamic calendar. They all disagree with each other, seems annoying. Can't we just have days starting from 1 and define a year by 100 days? That would make life much simpler.

These are age old questions. The seasons, is the most important thing that started science and mathematics, since ancient civilizations. Why is it important? Because, successful crop raising depends on knowing the seasons well. Without which, you have hunger.

And, to know the seasons, means knowing the pattern of when the weather will be cold, hot, snow, rain. Because, the plants go by that. And to know the seasons, our ancestors observed that it depends on the paths of the sun, the moon, the stars. Once you know the seasons well, then you can device calendars, which is essentially a easy way to mark the seasons by day. There are so many different calendars because, as we now know, that the seasons came from earth's orbit, and it is very, very, complex.

Here's a fantastic video that introduces the subject.

“Year on Earth”

ain't it a wonder? Now, that's why you study geometry. More specifically, analytic geometry, usually part of your calculus.

earth tilt

“earth's tilt” image source Dennis Nilsson

Here's some Wikipedia links for further reading.

  • Calendar. You have sun-based (solar calendar), moon-base (lunar calendar), and others.
  • Equinox “An equinox occurs twice a year, when the tilt of the Earth's axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth's equator.”
  • Tropic of Cancer “The Tropic of Cancer, also referred to as the Northern tropic, is the circle of latitude on the Earth that marks the most northerly position at which the Sun may appear directly overhead at its zenith. This event occurs once per year, at the time of the June solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun to its maximum extent.”

In modern day, when we think of calendars, we think of weekends, holidays, appointments. We forgot, that the primary purpose of calendar isn't about keeping dates, but tracking seasons. Because in modern society, most of us never have thought about crops and its connection to seasons. When you are hungry, you just order a pizza or lamb chop.