submitted 2 months ago by BackOnMyBS to c/nostupidquestions

The sun dial worked during daylight, but how did people agree on what time it was at night before clocks were invented?

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[-] dhork 69 points 2 months ago

The stars have a very predictable pattern to them, ancient people had nothing better to do at night than look up, and since there was no light pollution it was quite a show.

Depending on the time of year, some constellations would be visible all night and move across the sky. That's where the original Zodiac signs came from.

[-] [email protected] 42 points 2 months ago* (last edited 2 months ago)

This past winter, I started using Orion as a clock while I was out walking the dogs in the evenings. Got pretty good and could guesstimate the time to within about 30 minutes.

That only works until about 3 am or so, but if I was out more often that late, I could probably just pick a different constellation.

[-] felbane 48 points 2 months ago

Look at this fancy mf able to see Orion at night without it being blocked out by ludicrous amounts of light pollution

[-] [email protected] 19 points 2 months ago

Things should get better when Betelgeuse goes supernova.

[-] PunnyName 10 points 2 months ago

That fucker needs to hurry

[-] frostysauce 5 points 2 months ago

How long do you spend walking your dogs!? Just look at the clock when you go out and won't you still be accurate to within 30 minutes when you get back?

[-] [email protected] 2 points 2 months ago* (last edited 2 months ago)

Ha, I phrased it poorly.

What I meant was that I started noticing Orion's position in the sky at certain relatively fixed times. After a while, I could just look at where it was, relative to the horizon, and determine the current time within about 30 minutes (between about 5:30 PM and 3 AM when it's above the horizon here)

[-] [email protected] 2 points 2 months ago

could guesstimate the time to within about 30 minutes.

Which is more than precise enough for the people in the time OP is asking about.

[-] AbouBenAdhem 18 points 2 months ago

It’s actually easier to tell the time using the stars rather than the sun, because the elevation of the sun is hard to estimate without using a device like a sundial; but there are always stars near enough to the horizon that their elevation can be estimated with the unaided eye.

[-] [email protected] 3 points 2 months ago

Wouldn't I have to know where stars usually are in order to know the time at night? With the sun all I need is to know which is west vs east.

[-] dustyData 13 points 2 months ago

In theory, yes. In practice, you only have to watch the first night, pick a recognizable star pattern. Follow it across the sky during the night and from then on you can use that first read as your reference. Specific stars, their names or whatever is irrelevant as long as you can find the same group of stars every night. Without light pollution it is trivially easier as far more stars are visible and constellations are obvious.

[-] [email protected] 8 points 2 months ago* (last edited 2 months ago)

Without light pollution most people can identify the stars with a few nights practice.

[-] [email protected] 3 points 2 months ago

Things like Orion and Ursa Major are dead easy. Cassiopeia isn't hard either. And then with less light pollution you have Andromeda and such.

[-] [email protected] 9 points 2 months ago

Good thing overcast skies weren't invented yet.

this post was submitted on 26 Feb 2024
183 points (98.4% liked)

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