A few years ago on a drizzly, foggy day, my friend Graham brought me to Greenwich, a part of London in the UK. It’s the site of the Greenwich Observatory and the place the Prime Meridian passes through. It’s the Longitude (North to South reference line on a map or globe) that is assigned 0-degrees.

It’s the official line on earth where West separates from East. Obviously, we live on a spherical planet, so any designation of direction is arbitrary. The Prime Meridian could be anywhere. During ancient times, sailors reckoned from the Canary Islands because they believed that was as far to the West as the Earth existed.

Later, it was accepted that Earth was a globe so explorers and navigators used other places as the Prime Meridian. If you sailed for the French monarchy, the Meridian of Paris was 0 -degrees. The intrepid Dutch Navy used the Amsterdam Meridian. Italians figured it from Rome and the English reckoned it through London.

As sea trading, naval warfare and map making became more sophisticated, you can imagine how confusing travel and cartography could be when there existed no standard place of marking the meridians. The Latitudes were easy. 0-degrees has been the Equator, that part of everyone’s maps agreed with one another.

Finally, 127 years ago, today, in 1884, by an International Agreement, Greenwich, England in London was established as the Prime Meridian for the entire world. I suspect there was a lot of discussion and arguing, but Great Britain ruled the seas and was the superpower of the day. Their influence would have been very persuasive.

Not only is the Prime Meridian very important for map makers and navigators, but it is essential for time. Again, time is an arbitrary measurement. There have been various schemes to keep track of time. The idea of dividing a day into 24 equal portions became standard during ancient days.

The importance of standard time wasn’t realized until the industrial era when people began traveling by steamships and railroads. It was important to know exactly when departures and arrivals could be expected. The idea of a global standard became apparent in the 1800s. To get everyone to agree to the 0 hour placement was finally settled 127 years ago.

The name of the time at the Prime Meridian is now known as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT. Based on GMT, we have Coordinated Universal Time aka Universal Time Coordinated or U.T.C. Universal Time Coordinated is the modern variation of GMT which is different in concept because it is based upon yet another method of timekeeping TIA or International Atomic Time.

With TIA, leap seconds are added periodically to account for the irregularity of our planet’s rotation. From this point on, things get more complicated and involved. But I will say that aside from scientific requirements of fractions of seconds, TIA and UTC are vitally important for computer networking and especially for operation of the Internet.

From U.T.C. and the Prime Meridian, we can quickly become involved in study of timekeeping and cartography. Both subjects are highly interesting and can provide years of enjoyment.


The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes this brief sketch has been worth your time.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in cultural highlights, Gadgets, History, Transportation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to UTC

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  2. swabby429 says:

    Thank you for stopping by. I hope you get some benefit from these posts.

  3. Jimmy says:

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