Time on My Hands

It’s a Sunday and the new year by a day, now, and the days have already been getting longer for nearly two weeks. Which not only pleases me but had me musing about time — clock time, that is. I wandered over to the National Research Council site only to find it was offline (the end of time?), except for its Java Clock, that told me my computer’s clock was wrong by -0.023 seconds. So over to the US Naval Observatory for some data as to the times for rising and setting of the sun. (Rise at 7.51 and set at 4.52, where I am; nine hours and a minute of the good stuff.)

I happened to notice a caveat on the U.S. observatory site to the effect that:

The U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) does not furnish data specifically tailored for litigation. The data describing astronomical phenomena, provided by the USNO, are intended for public information and general use. The data are computed and are not reports of observed or recorded events. The computations assume certain conditions and the data might therefore not be relevant to the facts at issue in a specific case. The data are provided without seal or certification regarding authority, custody, or authenticity, and acceptance by a court is not guaranteed.

Astronomical data are sometimes needed for civil or criminal court proceedings, especially where there is an issue of the amount of natural illumination available during the incident in question. Both astronomical and meteorological information may be needed in such cases.

The U.S. Naval Observatory does not collect or maintain records or systems of records of astronomical phenomena – for example, observed times of sunrise, sunset, twilight, or Moon phases – that might be useful for litigation.

This makes sense if what is wanted is weather data — the conditions affecting visibility, say, on such and such a day. And of course the USNO wisely has no wish to get drawn into lawsuits or to provide pieces of paper stamped with seals, navy or otherwise. But if all that’s required is the time of sunrise or sunset for a given day, why would a court not accept data from the NRC or the USNO? It’s not as though nature is capricious in this respect. So it surely is a fact of which a court could take judicial notice, aided by the mechanical computations of a reliable observatory.

I’m too lazy today to do a proper search to discover whether our courts will, in fact, accept observatory data as proof. I did find that some statutes seem to require certificate evidence. Take, for example, s.106 (2) of Nova Scotia’s Wildlife Act, R.S.N.S. 1989, c. 504:

In any prosecution for an offence contrary to this Act or the regulations, a certificate stating the time of sunset or sunrise for any area of the Province and purporting to be signed by a climatologist or a climatology specialist in the employment of the Department of the Environment (Canada) or its successor shall be received in evidence…

(It seems that there’s more current version of the statute that CanLII describes as “missing” and that the Nova Scotia legislation site simply ignores. So with this failure and that of the National Research Council’s website, perhaps paper and people are still… advisable.)

So if you’ve got some time on your hands, you might let me know if you find out anything about how we prove the rising and the setting of the sun. And if that sounds too much like work, you might prefer to play around instead with timeanddate.com, which is a veritable cornucopia of time tables.

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