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   Vol. 15  No. 17
Tuesday March 1, 2016

A Leap of Faith
A Leap Of Faith
     1978 wasn’t a leap year, but had my older brother been born in either 1976 or 1980, and just one day later, he would be a leap year baby, or a ‘leapling.’ He would have turned about nine years old this year, despite his five-o-clock shadow and six-foot-three frame.
     Why do we observe leap years? One would think, given how paltry are the days in February (the shortest month), we could just make the decision to throw February an extra day and, well, call it a day. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
     The problem is that the universe doesn’t exist in whole numbers. Fractions abound. From the endless stream of numbers that define the mathematical constant Pi to the maddening square root of 2, our entire existence is riddled with runaway number sequences.
     Simply put, the earth spins on its axis at a different rate from its revolutions around the sun. While our calendar is a nice, round 365 days, it actually takes our little green marble a bit longer to circuit the sun—approximately 365.2422 days. And as anyone who has ever put pennies into a jar knows, little bits do add up.
     The Sumerians were the first to attempt to wrangle the days of the year into something accountable.      Their calendar was 12 months long, with 30 days per month. Unfortunately, this gave them a year that was one whole week shorter than the earth’s transit around the sun. The Egyptians, ever inventive, simply added 5 days of partying to their year—a fun, albeit inaccurate alternative.
     The Julian Calendar, devised by Julius Caesar and the astronomer Sosigenes, was created to account for extra days lost due to an outdated lunar Roman calendar that had thrown Roman society off by a full 3 months. Interestingly, ‘The Year Of Confusion” (46 B.C.) was a full 445 days and was instituted by Caesar to realign the calendar all at once. After 46 B.C., the 12-month, 365.25-day-a-year calendar was instituted, with the .25 day understood as a leap year thrown in every 4 years.
FAByline     One might think that was the end of it, however, our fractional, squirrely universe would once again prove intractable. The solar year is, in fact, only .242 days longer than a calendar year, so even rounding the number up to .25 threw off things—specifically, by 11 minutes a year. Again, think pennies in a jar. After 128 years, those 11 minutes translated into an entire day’s difference between our calendar year and our solar year. After a few centuries, the difference became monumental.
     We can thank Christianity for helping to establish our modern Gregorian Calendar. By the 16th century B.C., the Julian Calendar had pushed out several Christian holidays by as much as 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII couldn’t abide the discrepancy, and so founded the Gregorian Calendar in 1582, with a one-off, 21-day October just for that year to right the wrong of the previous centuries.
     One might think the rule of the leap year is an extra day every 4 years, but in fact our modern Gregorian Calendar has far more explicit rules: an extra day every 4 years except for years divisible by 100 and not 400 (1700, 1800, and 1900 were, therefore, not leap years). If that sounds—finally—satisfyingly precise, think again. According to experts, the tiny, fractional minutes and seconds of time still left over will eventually cause our calendar to misalign by two days. Thankfully, we have another 10,000 years before we have to worry about that.
If You Missed Any Of The Previous 3 Issues Of FlyingTypers
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Vol. 15 No. 14
Uli: The Quiet Man Of Air Cargo

ICAO ANC Will Outlaw Lithium
Chuckles For February 17, 2016
Arafa Goes Global At Swiss

Letters To The Editor for February 17, 2016
My Friend In Holland
Vol. 15 No. 15
An Evening Along The Chism Trail
Dornier Push-Pulls Into 2016

Vol. 15 No. 16
Lithium Ban Enacted
All About Lithium
Beam Me Up, Scotty
Black Wings Pioneered Flight

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