Universal Time and Space Time


T. E. Mark’s Blog


Universal Time and Space-Time

Is there time in space? Something comparable to what we refer to as Universal Time here on Earth?

If so, does it move forward by seconds, minutes and hours like on Earth? Of course, these divisions are based on our planet’s rotation about its axis with relation to the sun.

But what if your story takes place in deep space away from an orbiting planet? Or, what if your setting is a planet that spins very slowly, or quickly, or not at all?

How have your favourite authors addressed this? And, if you’re an author, planning on using outer space as the setting of your next Sci-Fi or Fantasy story, how will you?

Universal Time and Space Time in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Universal Time and Space Time in Science

Universal Time and Space Time Speculation

Universal Time and Space Time in Science Fiction and Fantasy

The issue of depicting time in space, on other planets, or in fantasy realms, is, in my opinion, one area where science fiction and fantasy writers have failed to deliver anything absorbingly creative.

A year is a year is a year is an Earth year whether you’ve grown up on a space ship in the Phoenix Galaxy Cluster, (and have never seen nor heard of Earth) in a Bikura village along Hyperion’s Cleft, or whether you’ve spent your entire life on Trantor working on the mind-bogglingly brilliant Encyclopaedia Galactic.

It’s just hard to imagine an intelligent entity comprised of ionised gas (plasma) zipping about between galaxies updating his appointment book with notations like: ‘Call Fred on Thursday at 9AM, have lunch with Veronica Saturday at 12:45, and meet the guys at Mikey’s Pub at 11:15 on Sunday for the game between Proxima b and Betelgeuse United.

I mean….

And then there’s Star Trek’s ‘Star Dates,’ which, according to the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, ‘…are a mathematical formula which varies depending on location in the galaxy, velocity of travel, and other factors.’ (Uh-huh) ‘And, can vary widely from episode to episode.’ (Right. Thanks, Gene.)

‘This obviously wasn’t thought through very well,’ admitted the writers of the iconic TV series, (1966 – 1969) who later revealed that, ‘it boiled down to picking a number and staying somewhat near to it.’


‘Ironically,’ wrote Roddenberry, ‘this worked quite well until we began receiving complaints from viewers asking, “How come one week the stardate is 2891, and the next it’s 2337, and then the week after it’s 3414? Huh?”’


Little notable creativity. Writers delivering highly imaginative, often multi-faceted plots found little reason to exhaust your ability to consume creativity with extraneous, possibly cumbersome incidentals such as ingenious time keeping.

More Recent

‘Hyperion,’ (1989) by Dan Simmons. Released as a six-story set under the full title ‘Hyperion Cantos,’ the author serves up a full sushi menu of imaginative devices but still leaves us with years, months, hours, minutes and seconds.

This is a fabulous read, which does address things like ‘Time Dilation,’ ‘Instantaneous Travel,’ and, of course, the legendary time-travelling ‘Shrike,’ but places no additional burden on the reader to consume an imaginary time measurement system.

Hyperion is perhaps the ideal blend of Sci-Fi and pure Fantasy.


‘Foundation,’ (1951) by Isaac Asimov. A five-part series beginning with ‘The Psychohistorians,’ this work sits near the top of almost everyone’s ‘Must-read’ list of science fiction or fantasy novels. Though he tosses dates at us such as 50 FE, (Foundation Era) even Asimov, who writes with almost unrivalled clarity, saw no purpose in distracting us with a fanciful time-keeping creation.


‘Star Trek: The Next Generation. (1987 – 1994) created by Gene Rodenberry. Though the trans-galactic explorers of the first spinoff continued with Earth’s proprietary time slices, (days, hours, minutes, etc) ‘Star Dates’ took on greater precision and actual mathematical significance.


In ‘The Next Generation,’ the stardate was a five-digit number followed by a decimal point. eg 41254.2. The first digit (the 4) indicating the 24th century, (the launch-date was the year 2369) the second digit (the 1) indicating the first season, the next three digits indicating the episode number, (000 to 999) and the decimal regarded as a day counter.

This, though comforting those (us) vigilant Trekkies, was hardly a creative device for keeping track of time while in deep space, or on another planet.

Universal Time and Space Time in Science

On Earth, we gauge time by the rotation of our planet about its axis, and the revolution around our star. This is referred to as Universal Time (UT). Thus, from our 365 ¼ day year, to our 24 hour day, down to that generally used division of time called a second, our time is a proprietary device given us by an elegant dance performed by our planet and its dear friend, that blazingly hot blob of burning hydrogen we call the Sun.

But one day we will venture into deep space. Will we carry Earth time with us? Or is there something more logical science will provide us?



In space, basic measurements include four dimensions. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to consider time measurement away from Universal Time (that Earth-Sun cosmic waltz) without considering the concept of space-time. (Three spatial dimensions plus time)

The tricky part comes when we consciously move away from those Universal Time (UT) units. In an effort to avoid using the proprietary earth term second, which can only make sense when considering the speed of Earth’s rotation, (1-day = 24 hours. 1-hour = 60 minutes. 1-min = 60 seconds.) physicists use the terms ‘moment,’ ‘event,’ ‘space-time interval,’ and ‘invariant interval.’

In other words, time in space becomes a function of distance. How long it takes for something to travel from point A to point B.

c = The Speed of Light

And since the one constant we know that works everywhere in space, and on Earth, is the speed of light, science, with a little boost from Einstein, gave us something that will work wherever our curiosity and ingenuity may take us.


Goodbye ‘Second,’ hello ‘Space-Time Interval’

From point A to point B, if there is no distance between them, will be termed a ‘Null, or Zero Space-time interval.’ If we separate points A and B, and, say, fire a light beam between them, we have two ‘events.’ ‘Event one,’ when the light leaves point A, and ‘event two,’ when the light reaches point B.

We now have a distance-time measurement we can call ‘one space-time interval.’

In simpler terms

In space, away from the Earth, a second has no real meaning. We may measure time in relation to the speed of light.

A ‘space-time interval’ will replace the second, and, say, 100 space-time intervals will replace the minute.

From there we will assume the creation of new terminology with no relationship to the rotation of the Earth to replace hours, days, weeks, months and years.

As our present time conventions are unique, (24 made the Egyptians happy. 60 was convenient to Sumerian – Babylonian mathematicians) and with most of the world committed to a base 10 system, it is likely our interstellar time keeping will also be a base-10 system.

Thus, there may be 100 ‘space-time intervals’ in a space-minute. And 100 ‘space-minutes’ in a ‘space-hour.’ Twenty ‘space-hours’ in a ‘space-day,’ and ten ‘space-days’ in a ‘space-week.’

Universal Time and Space Time Speculation

Constant Time. Imagine the clocks we may have by the time we begin colonizing Mars, the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, or exoplanets orbiting distant stars.

A glass cylinder, perhaps, with a single photon bouncing back and forth between two reflective plates. To the side, a digital readout recording time in ‘Photon-moments.’ For the crew of my ship on the way to the Orion Nebula, this would be their on-board clock.

1,000,000 photon-moments = 1 isotrope

10 isotropes = 1 invariant-interval

(And so on)

Velocity based time. Picturing four-dimensional space, it’s quite easy to accept the progression of time as a function of our velocity as we pass through it. Much of this speculation I’ve drawn directly from Relativity.

Extract from my next novel:

‘What time do you have Lieutenant?’

‘At our present velocity Captain, just going on 10:25.’

‘Damn,’ said Captain Lemonjello, stretching. ‘What do you say we bump it up to 0.65-c for a few Space-time intervals.’

Lieutenant Miss Taik smiled as she adjusted speed. ‘Miss breakfast again Captain?’

Captain Lemonjello smiled at the pretty reptilian navigator from Beta-Gamazoid III. ‘You know me all too well, don’t you Zippy?’

The delicate iguana of a girl blushed. The engines hummed. Several brief moments sizzled by.

‘Twelve exactly, Captain,’ she said tucking away her tail.

‘Really? Swell.’ Captain Lemonjello turned to the bridge. ‘Everyone okay with pizza again?’

Final Speculation

What if, after living for several generations on Jupiter’s Europa, Saturn’s Titan, or on a station in deep space, through simple evolution, people begin aging differently? More slowly.

We would then deduce time progression to work differently in space than it does on Earth. In space, perhaps time progression and its effects are tied to the expansion of the universe.

After all, time, in our universe, did begin with the Big Bang and accelerated during its initial expansions. Who would argue that this is no longer a feasible measure of time?


Though the expansion of the universe is accelerating, it’s actually quite slow, cosmologically speaking. An Earth second could be equivalent to 75 million Earth years in space, or more.

People in space would be nearly immortal.

Perhaps our aging on Earth is not just a simple process known as Entropy. What if it’s an evolutionary process that developed because of our existence on Earth and its cosmic ballet with our star?

Hmmmmm. I love science fiction!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this issue of PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS, and have been at least modestly inspired by my exploration of Universal Time and Space-Time in Science Fiction, Fantasy and in real science.

If my work pleases you, consider sharing this with your networking pals and maybe picking up one of my six recently published novels:

‘Love in the Time of Apocalypse’ (Published – June 2017)

‘Alina’ (Published – May 2017)

‘Never a Sun Rises’ (Published – April 2017)

‘Fractured Horizons: A Time Travel Odyssey’ (Published – Jan 2017)

‘…but then, why Mars really?’ (Published – Dec 2016)

‘AHNN’ (Published – Oct 2016)



T.E.Mark is a Science Writer, Author, Language Teacher and Violinist. He has written novels for young and adult readers and continues to write science articles for national and international magazines.

14 thoughts on “Universal Time and Space Time”

  1. This is great, Mark. I’ve often played with the idea of altering the passage of time in fantasy novels that don’t take place on Earth or aren’t settled by Earthlings – length of day, seasons (if there are any), and units of measure. The challenge is that the world building can get pretty complex and needlessly laborious. It can put more pressure on the reader. For example, translating alien years into Earth years to come up with relative ages. The reader has to stop reading to make the calculations.

    I love world-building and break it into two types. One, the major elements, like time-travel, that impact the world systems (and ultimately the plot). Two, the incidental details that are easily comprehended by the reader and are just there for interest. Sometimes fiddling with time fits into neither and it’s easier to stick with “hours, days, and years” as we understand them on Earth. I think there’s a balance between plausibility and readability that is tricky to find. And it’s not limited to time and space. Great post.


    1. D.Wallace,
      Your comments on my post were ‘Spot-On!’
      Using your words: ‘…finding the balance between plausibility and readability…’ is key, and, of course, the goal.
      You essentially made every argument I would have made if I were commenting on that post.
      1) Taxing the reader and pulling them from the flow of the story and making them do math would be a huge blunder.
      2) Doing ANYTHING that makes reading your work laborious for the reader is a mistake.
      3) I also like world-building and playing with things like time and measurements etc, but, as you, I feel it must be done smoothly without taxing
      the reader.
      I loved your comment and am glad you enjoyed my post.
      Drop me a link to what YOU feel is your best work. I’d like to read and review it at my book review website http://mthomasmark.wordpress.com

      Thanks again,
      TE Mark

      Additional Thought: In one of my books, my characters on on a planet which rotates about its axis at the same rate it revolves about its star. (much like Venus)
      Rather than make it a major issue, I simply had my main character (This was a Sci-Fi, humorous satire BTW) make mention of it being ‘hateful and bloody
      indecent that it was always something like dawn and a lot like twilight making time-keeping a worthless endeavour…’ etc etc

      I saw no reason, in this particular work, to extend beyond the amusing comments. Had it been a more serious work, I may have elaborated a bit more. Not sure
      if I would have tossed seconds, minutes and hours into the bin, mind you, but I probably would have found a suitable formula that DIDN’T turn it into a
      Maths exercise.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m so you found the comment “spot on.” I enjoy your posts – always relevant and they make me ponder all the careful choices we have to make with speculative fiction. Plus I get some sparks of inspiration.

        I would be thrilled to pieces if you would read and review one of my books. and will definitely drop you a line. 🙂


      2. D.Wallace,
        I’ve been travelling and moving and travelling and moving and have fallen way behind on my social media.
        I’d love to read one of your books and review it.
        Drop me an email with a link. temarkauthor@gmail.com

        Alternatively, perhaps we could trade eBOOKs.
        Write me.
        TE Mark

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Will do! Sorry about the delay responding. I’m on a short blogging break and thought I’d take a quick look and respond to comments. I’ll send off an email to you 🙂 Hope you’re well!


      4. Thanks!
        Doing quite well and trying my best to get caught up.
        Taking care of social media can be hard. And time consuming.

        As a consequence, I’m answering this message now at just after 4 AM. And this is becoming typical. If this keeps up I’ll be writing Vamp books shortly.

        Talk soon!


        Liked by 1 person

  2. While I can easily conceive of different ways of measuring time, many readers don’t want to spend time trying to learn new rules of reality, they just want a good read.


    1. TA, I couldn’t agree more. It’s the difference between facilitating and challenging your readers. If you facilitate their acceptance of your created world – that it’s different than what one would expect on Earth, you’ve done a good job. If you challenge them too much, causing them to think too deeply, start doing math, you run the risk of taking them away from the story.
      eg: ‘Time did not exist, in the conventional sense, on Tauras 9, as their world did not spin. A day on the sun-side was an eternity. Night on the dark side was cold and black where danger existed in every form imaginable.’ DONE! A little more detail, maybe, but… the point was addressed and you only challenged the ones who wanted to think it through.
      Thanks for your comment.


  3. oh thank you Mark… really thank you… but i couldn’t open yor book “why really Mars…” i dont know why i try to download its program but still have problem may i ask you please send me it again in PDF type? wish you a progressive day take care EOL


  4. Another interesting read, TE. I was really struck by the construct of aging. Is that a reason for it? The evolutionary process because of our journey around the sun? Intriguing idea. That process would reverse if you were making an interstellar journey. You would age but not like the people you left behind on earth. I don’t know whether to enjoy the concept of not keeping track of time in space or if I would be driven mad from not knowing the date, the day, etc. Very big morsels for food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely part of it, Susan. And yes, I’m intrigued with the possibility that our aging is
      simply an evolutionary process developed on a spinning planet revolving about a star.
      There’s really no physics to support the concept, but it is fun speculation and would DEFINITELY work well in a novel.
      It’s a fascinating subject even if we stay in our own back yard, so to speak.
      A year on Saturn = 30 Earth years. If we evolved on Saturn’s Titan, would we have evolved differently? Would we live to be 3 Saturnian years? (90 Earth years) Or would we live to be 90 Saturnian years? (2700 Earth years) (Fun stuff)
      As I said, it’s truly foundationless brainstorming, but then…. so was gravity once upon a time.

      Take care!

      Liked by 1 person

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