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,
January 5, 2015
Episode #180

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How Many New Year's Countdowns Are There?

Although I said that people decided it'd be smart to divide the Earth into 24 evenly spaced one-hour time zones, that's not actually what happened. If you take a look at a map of the various time zones, you'll see that they're anything but even. That original idea of using nice straight north-south cuts around the Earth (the so called lines of longitude) for time zones went out the window as soon as politics got involved.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing. For example, many countries decided they didn't want to be split in half (or thirds, or more), and therefore chose to "bend" the time zone around their border. Others decided they'd rather be on one time zone or another (instead of the one they naturally fall into) in to order to remain economically competitive with a neighbor.

There are 40 different countdowns to the new year!

The end result is the quirky mish-mash of time zones that we have today. It's a mish-mash that has some expansive countries like China—which naturally spans 5 time zones—using only a single time zone, and other countries like the U.S. and Russia spanning more than a half-dozen time zones each.

And it's a mish-mash that means there are 40 different countdowns to the new year! Starting with Kirimati/Christmas Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (which is 22 hours ahead of where I live in Los Angeles) and ending with American Somoa and a few other Pacific islands 25 hours later, New Year's celebrations go on for a long time.

What Time Is it in Space?

Now that we've got all of those details about what time zones are, where they come from, and how they affect New Year's celebrations out of the way, it's time for my favorite time zone fun fact: Namely, what time is it in space?

By which I mean, if you were an astronaut on the International Space Station (aka, ISS), how would you set your watch? After all, astronauts aboard the ISS witness sunrises and sunsets about every 90 minutes—which means they zoom through each 1 hour time zone in less than 4 minutes! 

In truth, any time zone could have been chosen as the standard for spaceflight, but the most logical choice is what's called UTC (originally known as GMT)—which is the time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. While that might seem like a rather random choice, it's really not. The Royal Observatory has been the center of the universe when it comes to time-keeping (and thus time zones) for centuries, and is therefore a natural choice for a universal reference—even in space!

Wrap Up

Okay, that's all the math we have time for today (and this year!).

Please be sure to check out my book The Math Dude’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. And remember to become a fan of the Math Dude on Facebook where you’ll find lots of great math posted throughout the week. If you’re on Twitter, please follow me there, too.

Until next time, this is Jason Marshall with The Math Dude’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Make Math Easier. Happy holidays and thanks for reading, math fans!

Calculator image courtesy of Shutterstock.


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