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Leap Year

It's LEAP YEAR! That once-in-every-four-year event that is supposed to put our planets back in alignment and make the calendar right. Sounds easy enough, but getting there was anything but easy.

It was Julius Caesar who first established the Julian calendar in 45 B.C. His astronomer, Sosigenes determined that the earth took 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds to revolve around the sun, or roughly 365 and one-quarter days. So the year became 365 days and every four years the quarters would add up to an extra day.

But that didn't quite solve the problem because 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds isn't really a quarter of a day - not exactly anyway. There was 11 minutes and 14 seconds of time to be accounted for!

This bothered a young Anglo-Saxon monk (later known as The Venerable Bede) in 703 A.D. Of course this error was so small that the sun would "pretty-much" stay in sync with the calendar.

Except every 128 days there would be a problem of an entire day! Nobody really thought that was worth dealing with.

Then, in 1582, Pope Gregory XII observed that the spring equinox fell on March 11, not March 21, as it should have. The Pope "fixed" the problem by declaring that the day known as "October 4, 1582" would be followed not by October 5, 1582 but rather by October 13, 1582! That took care of the immediate problem, but there were still long-range issues to deal with.

So Pope Gregory XII made some calculations and subsequent adjustments to the calendar and determined that if the first year of a century is divisible by 400, it will be a leap year, if not, it will not. So 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, but 2000 was.

The next centennial year that is a leap year is 2400. All other years (other than the first year of a new century) are leap years if they are divisible by four.

The Pope's calendar became known as the Gregorian calendar and is the one we use today. There were some issues when it was first introduced, however. Roman Catholics were happy to adopt the new calendar because it put Spring and Easter back to its proper time.

But Protestant countries, including England, resisted the change (After all it was a Roman Catholic Pope who developed the system!). It wasn't until 1752 that England and most of these countries adapted the Gregorian calendar and the loss of days to adjust for the new calendar is said to have caused riots in the streets.

Think England was slow to change? It was 1918 before Russia accepted the Gregorian calendar.

Happy leap year

People born on February 29th only celebrate their true birthdays every four years; some forty year olds only consider themselves to be 10!

Another interesting tidbit about this particular February 29th is that it is a Sunday. February begins and ends with a Sunday this year, having five total.

The last time February had five Sundays was in 1976. The pattern repeats every 28 years, so the next time will be in 2032. (1976, 2004, 2032, 2060.)

There's truly no perfect calendar, even the one we have now. Adjustments still have to be made, but it is said that this calendar will stay accurate to a very high degree until thousands of years from now.

Lining up the earth and sun at that time may not be an issue. We may be vacationing on Jupiter or a not yet discovered planet the next time they want to adjust the calendar.

For now, it's just nice to have an extra day now and then.

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