American Consequences - February 2020

he number 2020 divided by 4 equals 505, exactly – with no remainder, which makes the year 2020, like the upcoming years 2024, 2028, 2032 (and beyond), a leap year. We will get an "extra" day, February 29. This pattern will repeat until 2100, when the cycle breaks. Though 2100 is exactly divisible by 4, there is an exception – for years whose number is exactly divisible by 100. (On top of that, there's another exception – for years exactly divisible by 400. So 2400 will be a leap year. Mark your calendars now.)

Where do these quadrennial liberties with our calendar originate?

In the stars, of course.

CELESTIAL RHYTHMS One of the simplest joys of life is to watch the stars, night after night, month after month, year after year. They become old friends. They spend a season, and then move on. Or rather, it is we who move on – ever advancing around the sun toward next week’s deadlines, new constellations, new fashions, and new ideas. I imagine myself late one night, eight months from now, remembering the overfull recycling bin, at midnight on trash day. As I try to quietly dump wine bottles into the yellow- topped container, there – striding over the eastern skyline – is Orion. Back again is my ancient friend, telling me that winter is near, and that I have ridden this miraculous rock almost another full lap around my home


star. Rigel shimmers its blue-white light, the twinkle in the eye (the knee, actually) of a companion who has visited me, annually, every place on Earth I have lived since childhood. Even to the Southern Hemisphere, the steady Orion came for a summer visit – cartwheeling upside down, feet over hands. It is from these celestial cycles that our concepts of time originate and, ultimately, from which we gain the leap day. The sidereal year is the length of time it takes for the Earth to return to the same place with respect to the “fixed” and “constant” stars, so that Orion appears exactly in the same place in the sky, at exactly midnight, 365.2563 days later. Stellar friends like that don’t stand you up; they keep their appointments to seven- digit precision (and more).

American Consequences


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