The Science of Time

5-9 June 2016

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

The uses of time in astronomy - from pointing telescopes, coordinating and processing observations, predicting ephemerides, determining Earth orientation, analyzing time-series data and in many other ways - represent a broad sample of how time is used throughout human society and in space. Time and its reciprocal, frequency, is the most accurately measurable quantity and often an important path to the frontiers of science. But the future of timekeeping is changing with the development of optical frequency standards and the resulting challenges of distributing time at ever higher precision, with the possibility of timescales based on pulsars, and with the inclusion of higher-order relativistic effects. The definition of the second will likely be changed before the end of this decade, and its realization will increase in accuracy; the definition of the day is no longer obvious. The variability of the Earth's rotation presents challenges of understanding and prediction. It is time to take a closer look at time in astronomy and other sciences as a defining element of modern civilization.

The symposium aims to set the stage for future timekeeping standards, infrastructure, and engineering best practices for astronomers and the broader society. At the same time the program will be cognizant of the rich history from Harrison's chronometer to today's atomic clocks and pulsar observations. The theoreticians and engineers of time will be brought together with the educators and historians of science, enriching the understanding of time among both experts and the public.

The Science of Time will be hosted by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA (USA). The CfA is a collaboration of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) and the Harvard College Observatory (HCO). Some CfA staff are also in the Harvard Department of Astronomy (HDA).

Symposium Topics
  • The scientific and technical uses of time and time series data
  • The civil and scientific understanding of time - education and outreach
  • The history of time and timepieces, clocks and calendars
  • Social, cultural, and religious uses of timing information
  • High-precision time from sundials and the pendulum to atomic clocks and pulsars
  • Impact of precise time and frequency measurement in astronomy & basic science
  • Earth rotation and time
  • Time and solar-system ephemerides
  • The physics of time

Make Hotel Reservations Early

Early June is a busy time in the Boston area as schools and colleges will be in the midst of graduation. It is therefore advisable that you reserve a room as early as possible.
The group rate ends May 5, 2016

Conference Venue

Northwest Building - Harvard
52 Oxford Street
Cambridge, MA 02138


Courtyard Marriott - Cambridge
777 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone: 617-715-1771

Harvard Yard viewed from Harvard Square