New Year's Math Fun Facts

How many different New Year's Eve countdowns are there around the world? When do astronauts celebrate New Year's? Who celebrates first? And last? Keep on reading to learn all about these New Year's math fun facts.

Jason Marshall, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #180

It's that time of year when people gather together to stay up late, make toasts, profess their well-intentioned resolutions for the next dozen months, and welcome in the New Year.

Of course, exactly when you and your friends celebrate the changing of the year is determined by precisely where you live. Which might lead you to wonder: How many different New Year's Eve countdowns are there around the world?

To answer this question, today we're going to celebrate the new year Math Dude-style by talking about the astronomical origin of time zones, their quirkiness, and some math fun facts about the changing of the year that you can share with your friends while you're waiting for midnight!


What Are Time Zones?

As you no doubt know, the time in New York is not the same as the time in Los Angeles. And the times in Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, Baghdad, and London are all different, too. Of course, the reason is that each of these cities is located in a different time zone. And, most importantly for today, the time zone of each determines when it celebrates the new year.

But where do time zones come from in the first place? The idea is simple: Imagine you walk outside at precisely noon and notice that the Sun has just reached its highest point for the day. Being so excited by this, you call your friend who happens to live in another city that's exactly 1/24 the circumference of the Earth to your west.

People figured out that it'd be smart to divide the Earth up into 24 one-hour time zones…

Your friend notes that the Sun has yet to reach its highest point where she lives, so you decide to stay on the line and wait until that magical moment arrives. Lo and behold, exactly 1 hour later, your friend determines that the Sun has peaked in the sky. Which, you both decide, makes perfect sense since there are 24 hours in the day and she lives 1/24 x 24 hours = 1 hour away.

While we might think that this is all pretty obvious, long ago it definitely was not. People had to come to grips with the fact that the Earth is round, that it's progressively and periodically illuminated by the Sun in an east-to-west manner (due to Earth's rotation), and so on.

Eventually people realized all of this and figured out that it'd be smart to divide the Earth up into 24 one-hour time zones so that morning would be morning, afternoon would be afternoon, and evening would be evening no matter where you live. Which, I think you'll agree, is a good thing!


About the Author

Jason Marshall, PhD

Jason Marshall is the author of The Math Dude's Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. He provides clear explanations of math terms and principles, and his simple tricks for solving basic algebra problems will have even the most math-phobic person looking forward to working out whatever math problem comes their way.