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Work Progresses On 10,000 Year Clock 307

Posted by timothy
from the artifexian-contrapulation dept.
KindMind writes "CNet has pictures of a planned 10,000 year clock to be built in eastern Nevada by the Long Now Foundation. From the article: 'Running under its own power, the clock is an experiment in art, science, and engineering. The six dials on the face of this machine will represent the year, century, horizons, sun position, lunar phase, and the stars of the night sky over a 10,000-year period. Likely to span multiple generations and evolutions in culture, the thinking and design put into the monument makes it a moving sculpture as beautiful as it is complex.' This was reviewed on Slashdot in 2005. Really cool pictures, including one of a mechanical 'binary computer' that converts the pendulum into positions on the dial."
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Work Progresses On 10,000 Year Clock

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  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:11PM (#27571931) Journal

    I betcha it breaks 6 months after the warranty expires.

  • ha ha ha (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:14PM (#27571971) Homepage Journal

    This modern-day Stonehenge will be scavenged for parts and resources long before 10,000 years. Much like how the original Stonehenge was.
    • Re:ha ha ha (Score:4, Interesting)

      by evanbd (210358) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:33PM (#27572279)
      That's why one of the design considerations is avoiding valuable materials. This is nontrivial -- materials with good corrosion and wear resistance tend to be pricey. Obviously the clock won't be made of anything as low value as stone, but it is a consideration.
      • Except stone isn't low value - otherwise Stonehenge, the Pyramids, and many lesser known buildings wouldn't have been scavenged over the centuries. Even today, with stone not being a primary building material, it is still valued for decoration and used as a component in concrete.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by T-Bone-T (1048702)

          Stone is low-value. We use it only in certain building applications and low-value decoration and we have lots of it and know where to find lots more. The only reason ancient buildings were scavenged is because stone was the primary building material during those times.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by DerekLyons (302214)

            They had lots of stone and knew where to get more back then too... The reason ancient buildings were scavenged was because the stone was already cut to a manageable size, and was generally handily located.

      • Re:ha ha ha (Score:5, Informative)

        by pz (113803) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:53PM (#27572603) Journal

        That's why one of the design considerations is avoiding valuable materials. This is nontrivial -- materials with good corrosion and wear resistance tend to be pricey. Obviously the clock won't be made of anything as low value as stone, but it is a consideration.

        It's a big problem: build something pretty, and it becomes an object of desire, even to have a small part, and people will take. Build something that will last a long time, and it needs to be resistant to weathering, and therefore valuable, and people will take. Build something that has a function, it will be a source of political power to control it, and people who do not control it will try to destroy it. The engineering is only one part of the problem.

        The other thing I worry about is that the design tolerances are going to be difficult to maintain. Anything that will last 10,000 years will experience seismic activity, no matter where you put it. Few large structures can withstand being shaken while retaining high tolerances. I've spent a fair bit of my youth around buildings that were only 2500-3000 years old (in Greece), and by and large, they were not in very good condition, even when not scavanged for building materials. We do not understand how to build structures to resist corrosion and weathering on millenial time scales -- that does not mean we shouldn't try, just that we aren't good at it, yet.

        • Re:ha ha ha (Score:4, Informative)

          by mangu (126918) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @01:21PM (#27573115)

          We do not understand how to build structures to resist corrosion and weathering on millenial time scales -- that does not mean we shouldn't try, just that we aren't good at it, yet.

          We *didn't* understand that thousands of years ago. Today we have much better materials. Nickel, for instance, is much harder and more resistant to corrosion than the bronze that was used in ancient Greece. Marble and sandstone will show significant wear in a few decades if used in stairsteps, no wonder those old buildings are so worn out.

          • Re:ha ha ha (Score:5, Informative)

            by pz (113803) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @01:50PM (#27573639) Journal

            We do not understand how to build structures to resist corrosion and weathering on millenial time scales -- that does not mean we shouldn't try, just that we aren't good at it, yet.

            We *didn't* understand that thousands of years ago. Today we have much better materials. Nickel, for instance, is much harder and more resistant to corrosion than the bronze that was used in ancient Greece. Marble and sandstone will show significant wear in a few decades if used in stairsteps, no wonder those old buildings are so worn out.

            You're proposing to build stairs out of nickel? The Ancient Greeks were actually really good architects and civil engineers. Quite very good, if you take the time to study their techniques. There are buildings that are largely intact and have not moved, one stone relative to another, more than 1cm or so, over 3000 years (the Mycenean behive tombs), but they are rare among the buildings that still remain. These are just the buildings, I'm talking about, walls, floor, sometimes roofs. Forget complicated, moving mechanisms.

            We are currently building few, if any, structures that are intended to last at the century scale. Most built form is intended to last at the decadal scale. We utterly lack expertise at the millennial scale -- although, as stated above, that does not mean we should not TRY. Just that it's hard.

            And I'm not convinced at all that we have superior materials now than we did 2000 years ago for this purpose. Steel? Won't last. Stainless alloys? Corrosion still builds up over long time scales, and it's too valuable. Nickel? Valuable. Aluminum alloys? Still corrode. Valuable. Etc.

            The only materials that won't oxidize at those time scales are those that are already oxidized. SiO2 (quartz, glass). CaCO3 (marble). FeOx (oxidized iron, but it's structurally worthless).

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by mangu (126918)

              And I'm not convinced at all that we have superior materials now than we did 2000 years ago for this purpose.

              What about this mechanism [wikipedia.org]? If it had been built of modern corrosion-resistant alloys it would still be working today.

              Steel? Won't last. Stainless alloys? Corrosion still builds up over long time scales,

              Iron meteorites are a natural stainless steel and last millions of years. Although iron meteorites are only about 6% of the total that fall on earth, about 90% of collected meteorites are iron, they ar

          • Ship's propellers (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Kupfernigk (1190345)
            I have seen it suggested, forget where, that a new civilisation or visitors from space could tell, perhaps several millions years in the future, that we had once had a technical civilisation when they discovered the remains of (bronze) ship propellers, which would still be recognisable. (They may be the thickest bronze castings.) Stainless steel will be long gone, so probably will commercial grade nickel, though coinage metal may last.

            Exegi monumentum aere perennius, wrote Horace, but with modern bronze al

        • by sckeener (137243)

          We do not understand how to build structures to resist corrosion and weathering on millenial time scales -- that does not mean we shouldn't try, just that we aren't good at it, yet.

          the humorous part about trying is we won't see if we succeed. It'll be our descendants' building on our designs and even then they won't know....

          What I would like to see is more community type of buildings. If I was running a country, I'd plan for the long term. Monuments are nice, but I'd like to see some disaster relief buil

      • I don't know -- a '22 lb. sphere of tungsten' might be handy to someone re-inventing the lightbulb in 5K years.
    • Re:ha ha ha (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jmichaelg (148257) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @01:24PM (#27573141) Journal

      If they form a monastery around the clock it may survive. The monastery need not be religious, it just needs people who are willing to carry on the original vision. I'd bet there are enough people who would be willing to donate a year, or more, of their lives to maintaining something that was designed to last 10,000 years. A sort of "carrying the flame" kind of altruism. The monastery would be devoted to seeing that we don't forget how to manufacture things and as part of its mission, it could be continually rebuilding the clock. The Japanese have some Shinto temples they've routinely destroyed and rebuilt every 20 years. [japan-guide.com]

    • Re:ha ha ha (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@@@slashdot...org> on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @01:36PM (#27573357)

      There is a great solution to this: Just make it totally deadly radioactive for the next 10,000 years. ^^
      If it were me, who had to build it, I would do exactly that. I would make the only way to look at it, to use binoculars. With a large deadly zone around it. I would make it so radioactive, that it would glow in the night, for the first 1000 years or so. I would make it a legend. Something that is above religion. Above governments. Something that the two sides of the biggest war in those 10,000 years will value so much that they could never destroy it. And the radioactivity would keep more primitive thieves off of it.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:19PM (#27572051) Homepage Journal

    How about a non-powered clock that used the positions of the sun, moon, and stars to tell the time?

    We already have a version [wikipedia.org]? that works for about half a day in most parts of the world, and 24 hours during the summers near the poles.

    Another option:
    A clock that simply reads the remaining amount of radioactive material in a sample. Use the radiation to drive the device.

    • by StevenMaurer (115071) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:32PM (#27572253) Homepage
      It sounds like a good idea, but because of precession [wikipedia.org] of the Earth orbital axis, a sundial becomes inaccurate over the course of even a couple hundred years. Everything from Mayan ruins (which were originally lined up with the sun), to astrological signs (which originally stood for the period of time when a certain constellation was covered by the sun) have been made inaccurate by this effect.
      • Predictability (Score:2, Insightful)

        by davidwr (791652)

        If you can predict the unique patterns of shadows or light on any cloudless day or night in the future, you can make a calendar and clock that will work on that day.

        In the worst case, you chisel astronomical tables into stone tablets then leave long-life measuring instruments behind. At that point, "what's the date and time" becomes "measure and look it up in the table."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evanbd (210358)

      Reading the amount of radioactivity in a sample to a precision of even 1 day in 3.6 million is nontrivial. Doing it with a device that will survive 3.6 million days while being exposed to said radiation is even more so.

      Building a clock that lasts 3.6 million days is not a project for a single day, let alone the five minutes spent on a slashdot comment.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BlueParrot (965239)

        Reading the amount of radioactivity in a sample to a precision of even 1 day in 3.6 million is nontrivial. Doing it with a device that will survive 3.6 million days while being exposed to said radiation is even more so.

        Building a clock that lasts 3.6 million days is not a project for a single day, let alone the five minutes spent on a slashdot comment.

        36-Chlorine has a half-life of 30 000 years, decaying into either stable Sulfur-36 or Argon-36. Since the ratio of decay events that result in Argon-36 is kno

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by evanbd (210358)

          We don't know how to build a reference mass [wikipedia.org] that is accurate to even 10 ppm over a century. You're asking for a mass that is accurate to (about) 0.05 ppm over 100 centuries if you want the clock to be accurate to a single day at the end of those 100 centuries. Furthermore, you want it to be built not from a high-stability noble metal alloy, but from a radioactive, reactive gas. And you want to maintain this stability without even doing the best job you know how of isolating it from its environment, but i

  • You'd think I would appreciate lots of close-up pictures of dissociated machine parts, but today, not so much. Must be taxes, but that gallery just looks like a lot of meaningless gears.

    Even pictures need context.

  • by StefanJ (88986) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:26PM (#27572159) Homepage Journal

    Neal Stephenson's novel Anathem was inspired by the work and philosophy of the Long Now Foundation.

    In brief: The narrator and many of the characters are members of a scholarly order which separates itself from the distractions of the outside world. Their monk-like existence is bound by many rules and rituals. Many of these center around the "winding" and tending of an immense clock.

    Not a book for everyone, but I found it entertaining and intriguing.

    • Anathem was fantastic - it's my new favorite Neal Stephenson book. His best work yet.

  • The motion of galaxies/superclusters/filaments [wikipedia.org] is pretty steady, why not just record the current positions many of them, and note when each observation was taken? Even if a small number of superclusters collide, most are likely to still be intact after millions of years, and this would require no moving parts.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The point of this clock isn't the accurate keeping of time, rather it is to create dreams for the living, of a time long after their own death.

  • by Gnavpot (708731) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:27PM (#27572173)

    This mechanical clock was completed 54 years ago. It has a 25,753 year cycle.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jens_Olsen's_World_Clock [wikipedia.org]

    (And it had to be completely renovated after 40 years...)

    • by PitaBred (632671)
      And wound every week. This clock is meant to be completely autonomous. That world clock is a neat device, but it's not nearly the same kind of project.
    • by gknoy (899301)

      I was under the impression that the Long Now's clock is intended to be a lasting monument, so durability and minimized maintenanced needs are likley a core design requirement -- in addition to technical accuracy.

  • The End is Near (Score:5, Interesting)

    by travdaddy (527149) <travo&linuxmail,org> on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:28PM (#27572191)
    Just think, if this thing really works, then we've created another day where everyone will stockpile cans of food and hides in the cellar! "The Ancient Americans knew this clock would only need to be accurate for 3.65 million days!"

    If you doubt that will happen, take a good look at the Mayan calendar.
  • 12009 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lakitu (136170) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:29PM (#27572211)

    THE WORLD IS GOING TO END IN 12009

    THE AMERICANS PREDICTED IT

    • Re:12009 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:45PM (#27572491) Homepage

      Lol, yeah, I can even see that happening.

      Plus, if I understand the device, then it's powered by a couple huge weights slowly falling down a screw. Whatever future society encounters it may not fully understand it, and based on the "Doomsday myth" might assume something is supposed to happen when the weights reach the bottom. There'll be a whole society of people who want to find out, and on that auspicious day they'll travel up to the mountain and have a big party and sit around speculating what'll happen. Will a secret passage open up containing the wisdom of the ancients? Will the whole thing collapse as if mimicking the destruction that will soon engulf the world? Then the moment finally comes, the bells sound one final time, the weights settle at the bottom of the machine... and it stops moving. That's it. They wait around for a while, but still nothing happens. They all leave, and one is heard to mutter "Whoever these Society of the Long Now people were, they're a bunch of jerks."

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by plsander (30907)

        So we need to design it so that a door opens and a sign pops out saying some form of "Ha!"

  • Perpetual motion (Score:2, Interesting)

    by piripiri (1476949)

    Running under its own power

    Perpetual motion ?

    • by jjohnson (62583)

      It has weights that descend over the course of a century, and will need to be wound every century. The point was to have an independent, purely mechanical power source that could run for 10,000 years as long as someone just bothers to reset the weights. No chemicals to run out, no dependency on an outside power source to keep functioning.

  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @12:35PM (#27572307)
    The Tower of the Winds [wikipedia.org], the public mechanical calendar/sundial in the old Roman agora in ancient Athens, was probably not more than a few hundred years old before it was stripped for parts, looted, and converted into the bell tower for a former Byzantine Christian church. If history is anything to go by, then this mechanism will also be broken up and destroyed long before 10,000 years have passed.
  • I can't wait for the year 10,191 lots of cool stuff will start happening around then.

  • What you are telling me is this thing isn't y12.013k compliant?
  • by olivier69 (1176459) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @01:06PM (#27572837) Homepage
    We have been fooled ! This will last only 16 years !

    And I understand binary !

    --
    There are 10 types of people in the world : Those who understand binary, and those who don't...
  • Because 10,000 years from now we're still going to be using the same calendar and time system.

  • Are they going to make sure it can handle 5-digit years? In other words, is it Y10K compliant?
  • by DarthVain (724186) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @02:58PM (#27574837)

    someone has to enter a code and press execute every 108 minutes.

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