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Standard Time Units

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For reason or reasons unknown to members of the Galaxy at the time of the era under discussion, Intergalactic Standard Time defines its fundamental unit, the second, as the time in which light travels 299,776 kilometers. 86,400 seconds are arbitrarily set equal to one Intergalactic Standard Day; and 365 of these days to one Intergalactic Standard Year.

Why 299,776?- Or 86,400?- Or 365?
— "Search By The Foundation", Foundation

This is a common Speculative Fiction trope. For reasons that should be obvious, planets have years and days of different lengths; months are entirely optional. But almost every sprawling galactic civilization runs on one set of standard time units, nominal years and days used for record-keeping. In universes where humans are a major colonial power, these units are often close to Earth days and years.

When a traveler visits a planet that does not use standard time, the result is Two of Your Earth Minutes. Occasionally overlaps with Alternative Calendar, though many Alternative Calendars are restricted to a single world. If the units are given different names, they are Microts.


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  • In ARIA, Aqua (Mars) has its own calendar to represent that it has a different amount of days per year than Earth, but the series does use both that calendar and the standard Gregorian calendar.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Acknowledged in the Frozen Teardrop novel, which takes place mostly on Mars. Time on Mars is measured according to a Martian calendar system, with years divided into eight seasons to roughly correlate with Earth's calendar (Mars's year is more or less twice as long as Earth's).

  • In Isaac Asimov's later Foundation novels, this is used as a plot point to deduce the identity of Earth, the forgotten homeworld. The standard year and day correspond to no day or year cycle on any known world, but just might correspond to the original.
  • Although Asimov's The Stars, Like Dust is a distant prequel to the Foundation novels, at one point a character realizes he forgot to reset his watch to local planetary time from "Standard Interstellar Time", in which system "one hundred minutes made an hour and a thousand made a day".
  • When one of the characters in Hyperion Cantos novels ends up travelling to Earth, which was not destroyed but moved, he expresses surprise that the day exactly corresponds to a 'standard' day in the WorldWeb, before realizing that the standard time measurements actually come from Old Earth.
  • In Vernor Vinge's novel A Deepness in the Sky, the major space-faring civilization measures time only in seconds and units derivable from them via metric prefixes (so kiloseconds, megaseconds, etc.)
    • On the other hand, it eventually becomes clear that their computers all count time starting from the Unix epoch. Though they themselves have forgotten the fact, and falsely believe that their clocks start from the time of the first Moon landing. (It's close enough for government work, anyway; the Unix epoch is coincidentally the first Gregorian new year after the moon landing.)
  • The Ekumen of Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels has a nominal standard year for recordkeeping, but due to the difficulty of interstellar travel most worlds use idiosyncratic calendars based on the local year.
  • Most nations in the Honor Harrington series have their own local calendars, but use Earth's years (which they call "T years", like in Terra) for the recordkeeping and general communications. It helps that Earth is still around, and a capital of the largest single polity in the inhabited universe, thus conveniently avoiding the Insignificant Little Blue Planet trope.
    • The only exception would be Protectorate of Grayson, which still uses standard Gregorian Calendar as their method of timekeeping, despite it having a little resemblance to the local orbital parameters, so they had to invent an imaginative way to cope with this problem. But then, their stubbornness is legendary.
  • The drow of Menzoberranzen in the R.A. Salvatore Forgotten Realms novels still use hours, days, and years based on the sun for some reason, even going so far as to enchant a giant stone pillar to serve as an infrared sun surrogate. They don't have any contact with surface-going nations or any reason it would be necessary to synchronize with them.
  • This is a plot point in the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel The Krytos Trap where Corran Horn notes that he's either on a planet so backwater that all local clocks are set to GST, regardless of local time, or... he's actually been on Coruscant the whole duration of his imprisonment.
  • The lack of this is a serious problem on Gor, because it means that pinning down how long ago something happened is almost impossible. Most cities measure time by "when so-and-so was administrator", the desert people have proper calendars but those have years with differing lengths, only Ar counts time in a way that Tarl finds meaningful.
  • Many Greg Egan novels are told from the point of view of conscious AI entities running on weird and whacky computational frameworks. (The weirdnessess are often plot points, and the changing ratio of perceived time versus objective time as the framework changes are also plot points.)
    • In Diaspora, the characters pin their clock time to real time by the 'tau', a subjective measure of time that depends on the power of the hardware they're running on and the relativistic effects of galactic travel. "Rushing," where the character runs their clock incredibly slowly to wait for the Universe to do interesting things in a short space of perceived time, is often used to make the cosmology useful to the plot.
  • Redshirts has universal time used on all Universal Union ships and bases, but it seems most planets keep some sort of local time since Dahl has to work out the time in Boston when calling an old friend from a distant space station.
  • Void Dogs is set in deep space, so the issue of different planets having different day lengths hasn't been addressed. It's been hinted that the standard is actually a 28 hour day.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The eponymous station in Babylon 5 uses 24 hour Earth days (measured in "Earth Standard Time", apparently Geneva time) and other units, as does the rest of EarthForce. Other races have their own sets of units, although most of them normally use human equivalent names when discussing time due to the nature of the station as being run by EarthForce.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) uses standard Earth units and 24-hour military time without explanation. The series takes place in the Neanderthal era, in a society that has no knowledge of the planet Earth, so the best possible explanation is that "standard Colonial time" just happens to exactly resemble Earth chronological conventions.
  • Farscape does it, though the units are a bit weird since the Translator Microbes don't do conversions.
  • Star Trek, through Stardates.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Imperium of Warhammer 40,000 uses Earth years in a continuation of the Gregorian calendar, with the year nominally divided into 1,000 parts for record-keeping purposes. They do use a unique notation, though. Instead of "38,420 AD" they would write "420 M39," meaning 420th year, 39th millennium. There's also an official way of recording how accurate the date is considered to be (the vagaries of space travel and communication in the setting mean they're lucky of it's within ten years in many cases), but few authors bother with the whole 10 character date.
    • An interesting variation is seen in one of the Ciaphas Cain books, with a planet that is tidally locked, meaning that the planet only rotates once in the time required to orbit the star. Since the ambient sunlight is constant for a given location and doesn't change based on the time of day the inhabitants don't use time zones and instead adopt a planet wide time so that everyone is awake or asleep at the same time worldwide.
  • The Traveller Tabletop RPG The Third Imperium used a 365-day year, probably because of tradition: it was based on the Second Imperium, which had been created by Earth humans conquering the First Imperium.

    Video Games 
  • In the Mass Effect series, there are two time standards: Earth standard time, used by the Alliancenote , and the Galactic Standard Time, which the rest of the galaxy goes by. In the Galactic Standard Time, a day is divided into 20 hours, each hour is 100 minutes long, and each minute is 100 seconds long. However, 1 galactic second is about twice as fast as 1 Earth second, so it's basically a 50-second minute, and the days would be 15% longer than an Earth day. For convenience's sake, the narrative goes by the Earth Standard Time.

  • In Darths & Droids, it becomes clear that the GM has not set up a standard calendar for the universe when everyone's debating whether Jim can use his Fate Manipulation ability again to avoid his character's death. This despite the Republic in Star Wars having using a standard calendar (based on the calendar of its central planet, Coruscant); of course, Jim's character did have to die in that scene.
  • In Unity, the time units are Metric intervals based on the internal circadian period of the ship. A day is divided into 10 decs, which are in turn divided into 10 kaysecs, which are in turn divided into 10 centis of 100 seconds. On the other side, 5 days become a dec, and 5 decs become a round, as explained in the comments on this comic.

    Web Original 
  • Orion's Arm uses fairly hard science and thus has to accept the problem posed by relativity. As a result no one has any idea what year it is by our calendar (except GAIA) and every planet has not just different length days and years but experiences time at a different rate.

    Real Life 
  • 24-hour days are used in polar regions of the earth, even at times when the sun may not set for months on end in summer, and not rise for months in winter, and thus the idea of "days" is meaningless.
    • Likewise, the use of the 24-hour clock (set to Zulu Time, i.e. GMT) is maintained on submarines at sea and in space, where the day-night cycle is completely irrelevant.
    • On the other hand, time on space telescopes is allocated in kiloseconds (and megaseconds, for really massive projects), probably because the second (unlike minutes, hours and days) is an SI unit.
  • A day on Mars is only a bit longer: a sidereal day is 24 hours and 37 minutes (vs 23 h 56 m on Earth), and one solar day is 24 h 39 m (vs 24 h on Earth)
  • The second is now defined based on atomic clocks, so that it doesn't change while tidal effects slow down the Earth's rotation (or when tectonic activity alters the day length). It also means you don't have to be watching the Earth to measure a second IN SPACE!