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A brief history of timekeeping

Humans’ concept of time has evolved with our ability to track it

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9:47am, July 15, 2015
marine chronometer

John Harrison’s marine chronometer eventually won the British government’s prize for determining longitude at sea. An earlier version, ca. 1735, is shown here. 

For millennia, humans have harnessed the power of clocks to schedule prayers, guide ocean voyages and, lately, to chart the universe. Whatever their use, all clocks need two basic components: a constant repetitive action (like a pendulum’s swing or an atom’s vibrations) and a way to mark time’s progression.

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