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Why There Are 24 Hours In A Day – “The Why”

Welcome to the latest edition of The Why.

Everywhere you look the media is pushing you telling you who to follow, what to watch and when to watch it.   You’re even sometimes told how to do it all.  Truth is, here at American Live Wire we do a bit of that too.  The big difference is we also tell you why.

You ask the questions.  We provide the answers.

“Why are there 24 hours in a day?”

“Why are there 24 hours in a day?” you ask?

If you think this is a stupid question then consider this.  We live in a world where everything is based on “10”.  Seriously, for my younger readers, here’s a bit of ancient American history that some of us actually experienced in person.

24 hours in a day

Why are there 24 hours in a day?

Much of the world uses something called the metric system. Back in the 1970s there was a major move to get the US to ditch our system of measurement for this world-wide “ten-based” system.  While we dodged that metric bullet, today the decimal system runs rampant and the binary system is responsible for where this article was written and where you are reading it.

So, seriously, why are there 24 hours in a day?  Online sources do not actually all agree on an answer.  One belief is that it came from the Greeks.  Another gives full credit to the Sumerians.

Several sources, however, including ABC Science, credit the Egyptians.  The ancient Egyptians divided day-time into 10 hours that they measured with things such as shadow clocks.  They added a “twilight hour” at the start and another at the end to create a period of 24 hours in a day.

Dr Nick Lomb, a consultant curator of astronomy at the Sydney Observatory, explained:  “Night-time was divided in 12 hours, based on the observations of stars. The Egyptians had a system of 36 star groups called ‘decans’ — chosen so that on any night one decan rose 40 minutes after the previous one.  Tables were produced to help people to determine time at night by observing the decans.”

So, didn’t Egyptians use the decimal system too?  Where do Sumerians fit in here?  Research has  shown that as far back as 3000 BC Egyptians did indeed use a base-10 decimal system.  Their base-12 clocks, however, is believed by many to have come from a Sumerian counting system.  The Sumerians counted on their fingers.

Don’t laugh yet.  They counted not by the finger but by individual knuckles.  A Sumerian would open his left hand and count by touching the tip of his left thumb to each of the three knuckles in his four left fingers.  It comes out to 12.

The Egyptians counted this way as well.  This influenced their way of thinking.  They divided the day into 2 12-hour halves—more specifically the day was ten hours, the night was 12 hours and there were two hours of twilight.

Ah, but what about the Greeks now?  While the calendar the Egyptians developed out of this simple counting method worked well enough for them it was far from perfect.  The Greeks required something that that would include fixed-length increments.

Their best astronomer, Hipparchus, stepped in and merged the Egyptian system with ideas of his own to create the standardized equinoctial clock used today where each segment of light and dark .we use today, wherein each period of light and dark is divided into 12 segments of  equal-length.

24 hours in a day

Why are there 24 hours in a day?

Are there always 24 hours in a day?  Is it a perfect system? No.

Michael E. Wysession, Ph.D., associate professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, told The Daily Galaxy: “”Earth’s 24 hour day is a transient thing.  It actually takes 23 hours, 56 minutes and four seconds to make one revolution around its axis — that is, to go all the way around so that the stars will appear in the same point in the sky day after day.”

Still, this column isn’t about critiquing the system.  It’s about how it came to be.  There are 24 hours in a day because of the Sumerians, the Egyptians and the Greeks.

“Why are there 24 hours in a day?”  Now you know.

(Isn’t it about time?)

You ask the questions.  We provide the answers.

American Live Wire . . . Listen and be heard.

(Images courtesy of Colourbox)

About Will Phoenix

W. Scott Phoenix, B.A., B.S. was born in Hawaii, raised in Pennsylvania and resides in California. He has been a published writer since 1978. His work has appeared (under various names) in numerous places in print and online including Examiner.com. He is a single parent of three children and has also worked as an actor, singer and teacher. He has been employed by such publications as the Daily Collegian and the Los Angeles Times.