Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 May 2005
Practical measurement of the passage of time requires the notion of a repeating phenomenon. The Earth's rotation has traditionally fulfilled this requirement. To cope with the impracticality of making precise measures of the Sun's hour angle or altitude, particularly in uncooperative weather conditions, various devices have been employed, but all have been calibrated with respect to astronomical phenomena related to the Earth's rotation, or to its orbital motion with respect to the Sun. Modern requirements for timing precision coupled with an increased understanding of the variability of the Earth's rotational speed are likely to bring about a change in the traditional relationship between precise timekeeping and astronomy. The historical background of this relationship and the current definitions are reviewed to show the development of timekeeping capabilities and the growing need for precise timekeeping. Possible future developments are outlined along with their advantages and disadvantages.