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Ask Cool Daddy Crosses the Line
Dear Cool Daddy: I heard on the news that for the new year, Samoa is moving to the other side of the International Date Line…how is such a thing even possible? …from Torchy in Tulsa
Dear Torchy: At the outset, I should mention that Stolf…my partner in crime on 1340 WMSA radio in Massena, NY…is a real geography nut. Give him an atlas and he’ll sit enthralled for hours…and he helped me no end with this answer.
There are many misconceptions about the International Date Line. You may hear it said that it’s an “imaginary” line…well, it isn’t a physical feature, like a road or a river, but it’s still as real as any municipal border, line of longitude or latitude, or for that matter the poles. Which is to say, it exists in a specific place, and you are either on one side of it or the other. In fact, the IDL is defined as the 180º meridian…but as you can see at left, marked out in red, it zigs and zags about quite a bit.
That’s because contrary to what you might think, there is no international law or even signed treaty that determines its precise path. Any local jurisdiction is free to bend it this way or that to their convenience. And if an island in the Pacific says it’s Tuesday there, when you think it really should be Monday there, what’s the point of arguing? (And as we’ll see below, this holds true for all of the 24 time zones as well.)
Thus, the IDL is skewed way to the west so that the Aleutian Islands can be on the same day as the rest of Alaska. Further south, it swings way to the east to include the nation of Kiribati (the former Gilbert Islands for you stamp collectors) in the “next day,” way ahead of apparent schedule. In fact, the Media called the world’s attention to this radical jog in the run-up to the Year 2000, suggesting this was done so that Kiribati’s tourists would be the first to greet the new Millennium, albeit a year early. In reality, while Kiribati certainly didn’t ignore the tourism angle, the change had been made in 1995 for the practical reason that its 32 islands crossed the IDL, and why wouldn’t you want your entire population, all 100,000 of them, on the same page…which is to say, day?
One final interesting thing about the IDL is this: if you were standing on the eastern side of the 180º meridian at a minute past midnight, then stepped over to the western side, what time would it be? Answer: it would still be 12:01AM, just the next day…the IDL is in fact in the middle of a time zone, not on either end of one.
Now above left is what it sounds like Samoa did, and on the right is what in fact happened, as I’m sure by now you’ve guessed. They didn’t move the country, they just moved the line. This was accomplished by having Thursday 12/29/2011 followed directly by Saturday 12/31/2011. Yes, for the Samoans, Friday 12/28/2011 simply never existed…if that was your birthday or anniversary, you simply made other arrangements, just as the Feb. 29ers do 3 years out of 4. This was done because their major trading partners, Australia and New Zealand, were a day ahead, and this was naturally inconvenient. And oddly enough, this reverses the decision they made back in 1892 to move across the IDL from west to east, to be more in line with Hawaii and California…they did that by having 2 July 4th’s in a row!
BTW, this change does not effect American Samoa, the tiny speck shown above, inset top left. The 2 bigger islands were British Samoa, then German Samoa…then after WWII, British again, administered by New Zealand. They gained independence in 1962 as Western Samoa, and were renamed simply Samoa in 1997…altho American Samoa still refers to them as Western Samoa…only now, in 2012, a day later!
The 24 international time zones are fascinating in themselves…as you can see with the bars of color at the bottom of this map, and the corresponding clocks at the top, each zone is 10 degrees of longitude in width, but which zone a country or part of a country chooses to align itself with is quite chaotic. 2 of the worst cases are China, spanning 5 time zones, and Alaska covering 4 time zones…yet each chooses to have its entire area on the same time! Thus, in far western China for example, step over into India an lose 3 hours…which I suppose is no weirder than having noonday sun overhead at 9AM…but at least a business in the far east doesn’t have to calculate what time it is for their supplier in the far west…it’s the same time for both!
tomorrow’s shameless plus today!…
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