Every four years, an unusual and highly bewildering phenomenon takes place (and no, I’m not referring to the mud slinging, verbal slug-fest that occurs between presidential hopefuls). The day that marks the reason for this particular phenomenon takes place February 29th, a day that doesn’t normally exist in the standard calendar year. I am talking of course, about Leap Year.
What is Leap Year exactly though-besides the addition of that strange “extra day” at the end of February (technically referred to as Leap Day)? Where did the idea of “Leap Year” come from and why do we even have a Leap Year anyway? What is the significance of adding an extra box to our calendars in February every four years? The reason is pretty fascinating actually-in a big, technical, sciency sort of way.
A Leap Year, (according to infoplease.com and other sources)-occurs every 4 years to help “synchronize the calendar year with the solar year”. You see-the length of time it takes for the earth to complete its orbit around the sun is approximately 365 days and….wait for it……1/4. To be more precise-it’s just 11 minutes, 14 seconds shy of ¼ of a day-but more on that later. So, in order to “match up” the calendar year with the solar year, it’s necessary to add an extra day every four years to our calendar to make up for the ¼ extra day each year it takes for the earth to rotate around the sun, we call this a Leap Day-which is of course February 29. Now about those delinquent 11 minutes….
Because of the 11 minute, 14 second shortage, more mathematical calculations are necessary to fully reconcile the differences between calendar time and orbital time. Now here’s the real kicker. Most people know that Leap Year occurs every four years, but if we were to simply add an extra day every four years to make up for the ¼ day extra of orbital time and not take into account the 11 minutes and 14 seconds that need to be subtracted, the calendar year would then out-pace the orbital year. 11 minutes and some change doesn’t seem like a lot at first, but after hundreds of years-these minutes begin to really add up. Did you know that in order to account for of the accumulated sum of these 11 minute, 14 second shortages-Leap Year is omitted three times every four hundred years? I know right. I had no idea either. To put it in more simple terms-we know of course that Leap Year only occurs in a year divisible by 4 but did you know that a year that marks the turn of a century will only be a Leap Year if it’s divisible also by 400? Leap Year was observed in the turn of the century year of 1600, yet no Leap Year was observed in the years 1700, 1800 or 1900 when it normally would have been. The year 2000 was also classified as a Leap Year, but 2100, 2200 and 2300 will not be.
Whew. I’ll bet you never knew that Leap Year was so complicated! I certainly didn’t. I guess for us non-sciency types, the best way to view Leap Year is that we are given an extra day of the year to do…well…whatever. The way the calendar days seem to fly by these days - I for one am grateful for any kind of extra day-even if it means I spend it just swept up in my typical daily routine. Leap Day falls on Monday this year so most of us will be working. So much for finally finishing out those last few episodes of Breaking Bad I suppose.
What significance (if any) does Leap Year hold for you? Were you, or someone you know born on Leap Day? If so, how do you (or they) celebrate a birthday? What is your “Leap Year” age compared to your “normal” age? I for one sort of like the idea of Leap Year even though it seems strange to me, but you can always count on three things to come along every four years - Leap Year, The Presidential Elections and The Summer Olympics. They say good things come in threes; maybe sometimes, they come in fours-as in every four years.