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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. 

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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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