Time zones are a little tricky. Normally, they help us keep somewhat normal time of day in relation to the position of the sun in our area. However, since time zones define how we live our lives in each area and time is so fundamental to our understanding of the universe, traveling across time zone lines can feel a lot like time travel.
Usually, the time change is so insignificant that no one really cares about the time difference – but if you could travel back in time by an entire day just by taking a short walk, you might feel a little bit more like a time lord. This isn’t possible with your average time zone boundary, so we have to look at the outliers.
To learn a little bit more about time zones and the oddest ones in the world, check out the video below.
One outlier in the world of time zones is Australia. Normally, there are 3 traditionally aligned time zones with vertical separators in Australia – but daylight savings time changes things. The 4 easternmost states and territories of Australia decided to adjust their clocks by increments of thirty minutes on Daylight savings time, or not at all. This results in some of the most peculiar time zones in the world and it, of course, also means that there exist 3 points where three different time zones meet up together.
All of this time zone craziness in Australia can be a little peculiar, but it hardly means you can “travel through time.” In order to feel like we are traveling through time, the time change between two points needs to be significant. Something might feel a little more like time travel if we could step out of our office at the end of a workday and instantly be transported back to a time 8 or even 12 hours earlier. Usually, this isn’t possible without a long-haul flight, and even then, that “time travel” journey takes time. But not in Antarctica.
Antarctica sits at the joining point of every line of longitude on the globe. Since time zones are usually bordered by these lines, you may think that Antarctica keeps roughly 20 to 30 different time zones… but nothing could be further from the truth.
Since the southernmost continent on the globe is only inhabited by researchers and millions of cute little penguins, the traditional method of establishing time zones could cause some trouble. For example, if every time zone came down and met at the south pole, it would result in over 20 conical sections of the continent that each kept different times. The south pole would then be a theoretical point where moving any distance away from it would allow you to be in any time zone respectively.
Since penguins don’t wear watches, there’s really no point in going to all this hassle for time. So, the currently accepted time zone structure in Antarctica tends to follow the local time of the nationality of the researchers inhabiting each region. There are a variety of different research stations across the continent each keeping to their own standard of time. On occasion, different areas will keep the same time as their supply station, resulting in the borders of Antarctica’s time zones being even more strange. Just take a look at the divisions below.
Since Antarctica also experiences extreme day-night cycles due to the rotation of the earth, daytime and nighttime are all relative down there anyway. Time zones in Antartica are essentially just good for keeping up with data, managing supplies, and trying to get some semblance of normalcy.
But all of this lands us at a rather interesting juncture – what is the fastest you can travel through time in Antarctica? Narrowing the question down even further, what is the shortest distance we can travel in Antarctica while also traveling through the greatest length of time? Finding this would allow us to maximize our time traveling while leveraging the least amount of work.
Let’s take a look.
The easy answer would simply be traveling across the time zone lines between the light pink and the dark green sections below. During Daylight Savings Time, the light pink area would be UTC +13 and the dark green zone would be at UTC -6. Stepping foot across this line would result in an instantaneous time change of -19 hours. In other words, you could fix your mistakes you made 19 hours ago.
When you do this math on this, estimating that one stride is about 2.5 feet, or about .00019 miles, and you are traveling back in time by 19 hours, we are left with an inverse speed of 100,000 hours per mile. That inverse speed is what we will call, the time travel ratio. In essence, the larger the ratio, the more time travel potential you have in traveling a set distance.
Put it this way, traveling 10 feet with a time travel ratio of 100,000 hours per mile, would yield you a net time change of 190 hours back in time. If you had a time travel ratio of 1 hour per mile, traveling 10 feet would only yield you .0019 hours through time, about 10 seconds back in time.
But that might just be a little too simple. Antarctica is not very populated and due to the lack of infrastructure, making that journey wouldn’t be the easiest.
Staying focused on the same area of Antarctica due to it being the closest two drastically different times zones fall, we are left with McMurdo Station at the bottom tip of the continent on this map. This station follows daylight savings time and keeps a time of UTC +12 or +13 respectively. If we start our time travel journey here and travel to the point where the next time zone starts, we are left with what is likely the easiest shortest distance one could travel while traveling through the most time.
Say the researchers at McMurdo station had a 2010 Cessna Skyhawk at their disposal able to take a trip to the edge of the UTC -6 time zone. They would need to travel a total distance of 616.94 miles. Neglecting the takeoff and landing time, traveling at the Skyhawk’s top speed of 142.92 miles per hour would allow the researchers to reach the next time zone in about 4.5 hours. Upon arrival, they would find that they actually made the trip in negative 14.5 hours due to the time change, traveling back in time by about half a day. All of this results in a time travel ratio of .024 hours per mile.
This may not sound great compared to the previous metrics, but when you consider that the time travelers are moving at 142 miles per hour, they can still achieve a statistically significant time travel change.
So, traveling from McMurdo Station in Antarctica across its adjacent time zone border is one of the best place in the world if you are looking to time travel on dry land or on a short flight. The International date line provides you with a little bit more bang for your buck in terms of time change, but when you consider the long haul flight or cruise necessary to cross it, Antartica yields you a better time travel ratio.
So, Antarctica’s time zones are a little crazy, but they also allow you to time travel back in time. Of course, all of this doesn’t really mean anything other than annoyingly having to set your watches back, but hey, we have to take what we can get when it comes to time travel.