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Fun Fact January 1, 2020

1 January 2020


A time ball or timeball is an obsolete time-signaling device. It consists of a large, painted wooden or metal ball that is dropped at a predetermined time, principally to enable navigators aboard ships offshore to verify the setting of their marine chronometers. Accurate timekeeping is essential to the determination of longitude at sea.  The first time ball was erected at Portsmouth, England, in 1829 by its inventor Robert Wauchope, a captain in the Royal Navy. Others followed in the major ports of the United Kingdom and around the maritime world. One was installed in 1833 at the Greenwich Observatory in London by the John Pond, a British astronomer.  Wauchope submitted his scheme to American and French ambassadors when they visited England. The United States Naval Observatory was established in Washington, D.C., and the first American time ball went into service there in 1845.  Time balls were usually dropped at 1 p.m. although in the United States they were dropped at noon. They were raised half way about 5 minutes earlier to alert the ships, then with 2–3 minutes to go they were raised the whole way. The time was recorded when the ball began descending, not when it reached the bottom. With the commencement of radio time signals in Britain from 1924, time balls gradually became obsolete and many were demolished in the 1920s, some time balls have remained operational as historical tourist attractions.  The first Times Square New Years Eve ball was dropped in 1907.


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