Star Math – Introduction to Time

What does time have to do with anything?

I keep talking about time and speed, without actually tackling what significance they have. Time itself, and how a person experiences time is a HUGE topic that I won’t dive all the way into. It gets very philosophical.

For our purposes, we’re interested more in timekeeping. How humanity clocks the passing of the day, how the day actually passes astronomically, how long we’ve spent doing certain things. All that jazz.

The basics are really fairly simple, and sound like common sense (which they are more or less), but most people don’t stop to think about it!

The not basics are… wild. And involve stars and planetary rotation vs revolution. But we’ll get back to that later. It’s not crucial for survival navigation, it’s just fascinating.


Disclaimer: I’m an American physics nerd, so if I ever switch between metric and Imperial… sorry. You get the point!

Have you ever thought about what “miles (or kilometers) per hour” actually means? Literally, if you’re driving at 30mi/hr, it means you will travel 30 miles in one hour. If you keep driving straight for 4 hours, you will have travelled 120 miles in that direction!

How does this help us?

If your directions tell you that your destination is 6 miles due East (directly East) from your current location, and you set off walking at 3mi/hr (the average human walking speed), you should arrive in two hours. If you’ve been walking for three hours and haven’t found it yet… there’s a problem!


We can also flip things to estimate how far we’ve gone. If you’re walking on a relatively flat path, at an easy gait, for an hour, you’ll have traveled about 3 miles. Maybe 4.

Tracking Speed

Thankfully, cars tell us what speed we’re going (and if you’re fancy, the distance, duration and even plot it on a map for you). If you’re walking, maybe your phone/watch has a fancy pedometer on it. Sailors in the Age of Exploration (15th-17th C or so) had a whole host of rustic tools, and had to try a lot harder to determine their speed. Check out this article on why nautical speed is measured in knots.

The Sky

“But wait,” you cry, “aren’t you all about natural signs and figuring things out without relying on modern technology??”

Okay. You really want the skinny on time? Well then friend, next time, we’ll cover the day, including: estimating time before sundown with hand measurements, finding local noon without a watch (you’ll need this info down the road), and human constructs of time (aka time zones and daylight savings time).

And after that? I think I can stall no longer. I will finally throw down some sun sights fun time!

A Quick Note on Math

We’ll hop more and more into some light calculation as we go along.  We’re fortunate enough to be alive since the invention of speed gauges, accurate clocks on our wrists (or in our pockets) good compasses and CALCULATORS, so don’t shy away from numbers. We honestly have it so easy. Heck, my phone can serve as an altimeter with a free compass application. How nutty is that?

Abrian C

I’m a Visual Storyteller and Cartographer. I create graphic novels for creators who don’t quite feel like they belong where they are, but know they must belong somewhere. I give them quietly curious worlds to escape into and explore, inspiring imagination through tales of ancient magic, enemies-to-best friends relationships and pure fun.

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