Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day

Happy Leap Day! In addition to an extra day, this year also has the Summer Olympics and a Presidential election. Oh and I'll be graduating from my Master's program too. Woohoo 2012!

Via the BBC, here are some fun facts about Leap Day - all the info about Julius Caesar make me want to go home and watch an episode of Rome:

  • Until Julius Caesar came to power, people observed a 355-day calendar - with an extra 22-day month every two years. But it was a convoluted solution to the problem and feast days began sliding into different seasons. So Caesar ordered his astronomer, Sosigenes, to simplify things. Sosigenes opted for the 365-day year with an extra day every four years to scoop up the extra hours. This is how the 29 February was born. It was then fine-tuned by Pope Gregory XIII (see below).
  • Why is February 29, not February 31, a leap year day? All the other months have 30 or 31 days, but February suffered from the ego of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, says Stewart. Under Julius Caesar, February had 30 days, but when Caesar Augustus was emperor he was peeved that his month - August - had only 29 days, whereas the month named after his predecessor Julius - July - had 31. "He pinched a couple of days for August to make it the same as July. And it was poor old February that lost out," says Prof Stewart.
  • Explorer Christopher Columbus used the lunar eclipse of 29 February 1504 to his advantage during his final trip to the West Indies. After several months of being stranded with his crew on the island of Jamaica, relations with the indigenous population broke down and they refused to continue helping with food and provisions. Columbus, knowing a lunar eclipse was due, consulted his almanac and then gathered the native chiefs on 29 February. He told that God was to punish them by painting the Moon red. During the eclipse, he said that God would withdraw the punishment if they starting co-operating again. The panicked chiefs agreed and the Moon began emerging from its shadow.

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