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What time is it on the moon?: Space agencies consider the common time zone for lunar missions


With lunar exploration missions becoming more common over time, the world’s space agencies are thinking about a standard time zone for the moon. This will be a departure from the current practice of running the lunar mission on the time of the country controlling the spacecraft. The need for a standard time zone is debated because multiple lunar missions felt the need to coordinate with each other.

The European Space Agency is very active in giving a time zone to the moon. The idea was also discussed last year at a meeting in the Netherlands, where participants agreed on the urgent need to establish “a common lunar reference time,” said Pietro Giordano, a navigation systems engineer at the European Space Agency.

“A concerted international effort is now being launched to achieve this,” Giordano said in a statement, according to AP news agency.

Space experts argue that an internationally accepted common lunar time zone will make coordination easier and allow more countries to launch their separate lunar missions. Recently, the private space sector has also shown interest in lunar missions.

While designing and building the International Space Station (ISS), NASA also thought about the idea. However, the ISS runs on Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, which is based on atomic clocks and helps to split time zones between different space agencies of the world.

The stakeholders are also debating whether a single organization should set and maintain the time on the moon. The issue also has a technical angle, as clocks run faster on the moon than on Earth. The tapping also happens differently on the lunar surface and lunar orbit.

According to the website, Earth-based GNSS also relies on the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRS), a three-dimensional coordinate system for the Earth established in 1991. This allows consistent measurement of precise distances between points on our planet. Lunar navigation requires a similar, internationally accepted lunar-centered – or “selenocentric” – coordinate reference frame.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.