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A Giant Leap Ahead

Mathematical Equation Mapped in 1582 Still Works Today

Those of us following the Gregorian Calendar gain an extra day this year. We get an extra day: February 29, 2024. Known as “leap year,” the phenomenon implemented by Pope Gregory XIII keeps the calendar in alignment with earth’s revolutions.

Problem Solved

The issue was the Julian Calendar, named after Julies Caesar, the Roman emperor who implemented around 46 B.C. The math used back then didn’t did not precisely calculate the earth’s rotation around the sun. This is because a day is 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than a tropical year. By 1582 the calendar was off by nearly 13 days. German mathematician Christopher Clavis worked out the details and the Pope implemented his recommendations, making each year evenly divisible by four. If the year can also be evenly divided by 100, it is not a leap year unless it is also evenly divisible by 400. Then it is a leap year.

The earth’s moon as seen on Sunday, named after the sun

Given its importance, it’s probably no wonder that the first day of the week would be named after the sun. The Anglo-Saxons who first adopted the seven-day week and substituted their own gods for the Roman ones are responsible for the name: Sunday. Monday, by the way, is named after the moon. Don’t feel badly for the Romans though. We still remember them in our months of the year. For example, January is named for Janus, the Roman god of sunset and sunrise, and July is named after Julius Caesar; August honors Augustus Caesar. We could go on, but time is slipping away.

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