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Around the World: New Year’s Time Travel

Jennifer Merin on

As 2020 comes to a close, people who love to travel are in high hopes that they will again be able to give free rein to their adventuresome spirits during 2021. Of course we can’t accurately predict a specific date when current travel restrictions will be lifted, but there’s hope that at some point during the new year, the world of travel – and traveling the world – will again become a real escape rather than a virtual one

Meanwhile, it’s time to reflect on all of the wonderful places we’ve visited virtually during this year of strictly limited travel and which of those virtual visits have so stimulated our imagination that we’ve added them to our bucket list of real places to visit as soon as we can.

We all need to slow down and take time for that kind of reflection, and the dawn of the new year seems to be a good time to take it – especially if you let your imagination take you on a virtual trip to one of the two places on Earth where time stands still.

Whoa! We’ve been stationary – stuck at home or near it -- for almost a year, but time has not stood still. So, just where on Earth does time stand still? And, if it’s true that such places exist, just what do those places look and feel like?

Actually, those places do exist, but reaching them takes imagination because they exist at a conceptual intersection of physical reality and virtual reality. And what the heck does that mean? Well, let’s figure it out.

It all has to do with humans – those who travel and everyone else, for that matter—actually measure time, which has everything to do with their specific location on this celestial orb we call Earth.

More specifically, it has to do with what we call ‘longitude‘--those imaginary lines that run north to south on the map, representing the division of the globe into sections called ‘degrees’--360 degrees, to be exact--ranging from east to west. Longitude is not to be confused with latitude, those imaginary parallel lines that circle the globe, running east-west, dividing it into sections north and south of the Equator.

Longitude and latitude tie time and location together on Earth. We use them to define our location--where we are at what time--relative to other locations which are assigned other times. But it is longitude that is most relevant to our discussion about places where time stands still.

Longitudinally-speaking, starting at the line that runs north and south through Greenwich, England--which is defined as zero degrees--the lines/degrees to the east are positive (plus one, two, three, etc.) and those to the west are negative (minus one, two, three, etc.), until you get to International Date Line (the longitudinal line directly opposite the Greenwich line), which is either plus 180 degrees or minus 180 degrees, depending on whether you’re approaching it from east or west.

The International Date Line is where, calendar-wise and sun rise-wise, one day becomes the next. And, by extension, one year becomes the next. The first folks to say hello to 2021 are in Sydney, Australia, which is close enough to the International Date Line and which has, as you may imagine, fabulous New Year’s celebrations. But that’s obviously not the place where time stands still.

The dawn of the new year moves on quickly to ignite New Year celebrations around the globe.

But, patience, we’ll soon arrive at that the spot where time stands still.

Meanwhile, don’t worry if you’re baffled by this talk about longitude and degrees. It actually took great thinkers from the Greeks to Galileo to develop the concept--and it wasn’t until the 1720s that John Harrison, the English clockmaker, invented a Marine Chronometer--a sea worthy clock--that translated concept into practical application, allowing navigators to determine their position at sea. As far as travelers are concerned, Harrison’s Marine Chronometer was one of the most important inventions ever.

Before Harrison, celestial navigation--reckoning by the stars--prevailed. So, heaven help the hapless captain of a fog-bound ship. ‘Lost at sea’ was such a frequent lament that Harrison was awarded the equivalent of $4.5-million by the British crown for his preventive invention.

But what does history this have to do with our virtual greeting of 2021 in a place where time stands still?

Well, think about those longitudinal lines, each defining a unique section or degree that’s also a different time zone--relative to ‘0’ hour set in Greenwich, England at the Royal Observatory. ’0’ hour is called Greenwich Mean Time.

When you fly from New York to London (or Greenwich), you transit several imaginary longitudinal lines, each marking the border of a different time zone. In fact, New York is five zones west of London (or minus five degrees or five hours). The New York to London flight takes seven hours, but arrive in London 12 hours after your take off--because you add five time zones (hours) to the duration of your flight.

We all know that, so no surprises there. You’ve made that trip, or one like it, and reset your watch to local time. And applied your favorite remedies to overcome jet lag--the discomfort you feel because you can’t reset your body clock as easily as you reset your watch.

Okay, but that’s time passing. So, where does it stand still?

Well, look at a globe--not a flat map--of the Earth, and notice that, while latitudinal lines never intersect, the longitudinal lines converge at two points--the North and South poles.

If what defines the passage of time on Earth is the distance between longitudinal lines, what happens when longitudinal lines converge? Right! Time stands still! There you have it. Well, at least in theory.

If you actually want to stand where times stands still, you’ll have to do it at the South Pole, which is actually on a land mass--Antarctica. In contrast, the North Pole is at sea. Although it’s covered by an ice cap, there are few expeditions to it--and those are mostly scientific or military ventures.

Remote as it is, at the bottom of the globe, Antarctica has – pre- and hopefully post-pandemic -- a thriving tourist industry. Actually, North America’s winter is Antarctica’s Austral summer, Antarctica’s tourist season--the mildest, most accommodating time of year, when sunshine glistens on glaciers round the clock, penguins nest and hatch babies, seals sunbathe on ice floes.

Wait a minute! How can there be seasons where time stands still?

Well, time doesn’t REALLY really stand still--just as one hour isn’t longer at the Equator than it is midway between the Equator and the South Pole, although the distance between longitudinal lines is greater. Yes, really. It makes sense if you look at a globe Look at a globe and observe the change in distance between longitudinal lines as you move from south to north.

But in Antarctica, it actually feels like time is standing still. New Year’s in Antarctica feels eternal. It’s where nature takes time taking its course and nothing much happens--but on such a much grander scale than you could possibly have imagined or experienced in a virtual reality tour.

Of course, it takes a long time to get to Antactica--about 20 hours in flight from North America to Ushuaia (latitudinally-speaking, the world’s southernmost city), and another two days at sea crossing the roiling and frightful Drake Passage. And the trip is costly. And perhaps it won’t be available to leisure travelers until the dawn of 2022. But put Antarctica on your travel bucket list and reflect assured that your travel time and budget will be very well-spent.

Antarctica is mighty destination, ideal for seasonal reflections about the wide world and where we are--and where we’re going. Make it this New Year’s resolution to get there for the New Year next year. And while you’re waiting to make that a reality, visit the Frozen Continent virtually via a double bill of movies about the place. I recommend “March of the Penguins” and “Ice People,” for starters.


Copyright 2020 Jennifer Merin



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