# Would it make sense for an Interstellar government to use the half life of common radioactive elements as a measure of time? and to make calendars? [closed]

For example, can we use the half life of Polonium or Uranium to measure time and produce something similar to a calendar?

• Only if they're all at equal measure of depth within their local gravity-wells, else they all go out of sync. Check out this other related post: Universal calendar for galactic empire. Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 15:27
• Better would be using pulsars as a common ‘clock’ although they slowly spin down. Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 15:29
• @JonCuster pulsars would have a different timing based on what solar system you view them from. One from 1 LY away from it would be 1 year off from it's "real time" one 20ly away... well you get the picture. ONLY if you had some form of instant communication/travel would that be possible. Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 15:35
• At present we can measure intervals of time with an accuracy of $1/10^{15}$, or one millionth of one part per billion. On the other hand, the half life of various radioactive elements cannot be measured to anything better than maybe $1/10^{6}$. Why would we replace our accurate clocks with something a billion times less accurate? Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 16:48
• @JiminyCricket, if anybody ever builds a real ansible, it will only call attention to the fact that two parties who are moving with respect to each other will never be able to agree on when any particular event "actually" happened. In fact, I have heard—though I don't know the math to prove it—that if I send you a message by ansible, and I ask you to send it back to me, then under the right conditions, I will receive your reply before I send the original message. Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 17:17

You basically are proposing to take metrology back to the 19th century/early 20th century on Earth when international standard units of measurement were defined by physical artifacts.

Suppose you are employed in the U.S.A., and you have a meter stick on your desk. How do you know it really is one meter long? Well, your employer hires a lab to come 'round every year and check it against their meter stick. But how do they know that their stick is accurate?

How it used to work was, every so often they went to some regional authority that keept a meter stick in a vault... And every so often the regional authority took their meter stick to the national lab in Washington D.C.,... And it was possible, at least in theory, that with great ceremony, and at great expense, the national meter stick could be carried to Paris France where it would be compared to the the one, authoritative physical artifact—a bar of platinum-iridium alloy,in a heavily guarded vault in the basement of the BIPM, bearing two scratches on its surface that, at a certain specific temperature, were defined to be exactly one meter apart.

It's much easier today. The meter is defined by a simple physical law, and anybody anywhere who is skilled in the art can build their own apparatus to calibrate their own meter stick without needing to compare theirs to anybody else's stick.

You are proposing a physical artifact—a lump of uranium—to define time. The only way for anybody to know whether their lump of uranium has exactly the same activity as the official standard lump is to take theirs to the lab where the official lump is stored and compare them.

• The problem with this answer is that we still rely on physical artifacts to tell time. We still use a master clock that all other clocks are kept in sync with. I think you could expand on this answer by proposing a theoretical way that TIME could be defined by a simple physical law. Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 18:45
• @Nosajimiki, Half true! Anybody who is skilled in the art can build an oscillator that ticks as close to once per second as anybody else can build without needing to regulate it into agreement with anybody else's oscillator. But the problem is, if you build a clock that counts the ticks, then to what time and date do you set it? The answer is not provided by a single clock, but by an ensemble of more than 400 clocks, located in various countries around the globe. They vote on what time it is right now. Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 19:03
• UTC is a single clock system and is by far the the preferred time system world wide. It is the default of all ISO compliant systems. Unless you've made deliberate attempts to change it, this is what your computer, your cellphone, and all your smart devices are using. TAI is only still used in niche cases where leap seconds would be considered detrimental to a system's performance. Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 20:14
• @Nosajimiki, UTC is TAI, offset by an amount that is adjusted from time to time. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coordinated_Universal_Time Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 22:23

## No

Traveling between stars requires relativistic speeds over long periods of time, and your rate of radioactive decay is effected by how fast you are moving due to spacetime dilation. If you are using any currently understood method of propulsion at 0.9 C for 10 years to reach your destination, then turn around and come home again at 0.9 C, then by the time you get home, your clock will be about 11.3 years out of sync. At that point your material ratio would be wrong, and your half life would be permanently shorter than Earth's rendering the clock pretty much useless because there is no way to resync them. You are better off using an atomic clock, and linking it up with a computer that can be programmed to compensate for spacetime dilation.

## Yes… ish

What time is it? I am writing this at about 10:30. By telling you that and cross referencing when this was posted you can roughly guess where I am longitudinally on planet earth. So even on the same planet, there is no definitive clock.

Many computers use milliseconds since Jan 1 1970, but this is only for internal math, and this always gets converted to a local time zone.

Using radioactive decay, good timing instruments, redundancy, and clever math you can get accurate time, but it isn’t that important. If you can’t teleport between planets, then the exact time doesn’t matter, if you can teleport then you can just have the government teleport things at constant intervals to keep time.

So while it is possible, it is more likely that local standards will eventually overtake your centralized system and people will just convert between those.