1. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Night time keeping devices

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by erebh, Apr 14, 2013.

    Ok guys, maybe you can suggest something because even Mr Google can't help me here

    What would a night time traveller use for keeping time before mechanical clocks were invented? Medieval times for instance.

    I thought of a candle but it would blow out as he is travelling horseback
    An hourglass in his pocket wouldn't really do either because the hours between light and dark are changing, days getting longer etc so a year long hour glass wouldn't do
    Waterclocks where it takes time to poor water from one vessel to another (like an hourglass) would spill on his horse.
    Also there is no sun to cast shadows on a sundial (it's night time remember)
    I found an incense burner that told the time but it needs to be stationary

    I'm wondering is there a genuine way of telling time by the moon or the stars around it? I know times of the year can be garnered from the moon but I'm looking for times of the night - Could a vampire look at the moon and say "Oh shit, only 2 hours to sun up"?

    And please don't say "Sure why not? - it is fantasy after all" I'm looking for authenticity here

    Thank you in advance
     
  2. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    sorry, I know I missed the hyphen in the title which makes it misleading - shux! (Don't know how to make an embarrassed smilie :( )
     
  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know any of the details, but didn't they know a lot about which stars/constellations were in particular places in the sky during various times of the year? They often referred to Venus as a morning star or evening star at various times. Travelers might be very attuned to when certain bodies appeared at various positions in the sky, with respect to how far they were from sunset/sunrise.

    I wish I could be more helpful.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Liz is right. Travelers in medieval times had to be aware of where the constellations were at different times of year, where and when the moon (and the sun) would rise and set as the months went by. They'd be able to tell time fairly accurately just by watching the sky.
     
  5. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    thanks guys - I get them knowing what time of year it is by the shape of the moon, constellations etc - I'm looking for specific times of the night. Maybe they didn't have one and I need to invent it... was trying to keep it real... oh well....

    maybe someone gifted can tell how long till sun up by the colour of the sky? From late afternoon it gets darker to the point of black before becoming brighter again. Maybe my night-time clock could have 7 shades of blue/black rather than traditional numerals. Jet Black beng midnight. What do you think? Remember I'm trying to be authentic in this part of my fantasy.

    I don't have to explain the clock, just my MC can know what time it is by the shades of the sky. Am I looking to deep into this? Answering my own questions? Rambling? Sorry!
     
  6. Sved
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    Sved Senior Member

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    Travelling during night in Medieval times were rare. As you can imagine it was very unsafe. Even during times of war armies would halt during night, sometimes their camps were within sight from each other!
     
  7. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Traveling during the night required as liz and minstrel said knowledge of astronomy and there were even maps designed using the relative position of constellations instead of north-south. The traveler would have to know the positioning of the constellations according to the season to navigate and as time goes by some stars become more visible and some others fade as the sun rises, so it can be used to keep track of time as well.Another way to keep track would be to use the time it takes them to travel from one spot to another. Usually people used to traveling on horseback or by carriage know more or less the time it takes them to go from point A to point B at their regular speed.
     
  8. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    thanks for the input Xatron - My "troupe" are just travelling through the open countryside, have no idea where they are, just the direction they need to be. They find somewhere to stop but wonder if they'll get to the next town before sun up. Seasons or times of the year mean nothing - they need to know how many hours before it's light, but you think an astronomer would be able to look into the sky, study constellations and figure out how long till sun-up? Do you know any links I can study to back this up?
     
  9. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe that they could. I think they could tell many things with specificity as far as time, as well as location (partly in so far as that was also related to time). I am amazed at what they could figure out, but remember at night, they didn't have light pollution to interfere with seeing the stars, and they also didn't have light to enable them to do much else other than ponder the sky if they weren't sleeping.
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You might be able to tell time at night (in the northern hemisphere at least) using a sextant or a device like it. Imagine a line from the North Star to the horizon, perpendicular to the horizon. Also, imagine a line from the North Star to a selected other star. Measure the angle between these lines and note it. Because the selected star will revolve around the North Star in 24 hours (though you can't see this in the daytime), when it moves 1/24 of that circle, or 15 degrees, that's one hour. So by measuring the angle between the two lines and subtracting from the original angle (the one you measured and noted first), you can determine the number of degrees the selected star has moved. Fifteen degrees is one hour, so one degree is one fifteenth of an hour, or four minutes. That's probably precise enough for your purposes.

    Just have your character measure the first angle as near to sundown as possible - as soon as the stars become visible. From there, he should be able to keep good time all night.

    I haven't thought this through in detail yet, so maybe there's something I'm missing, but it seems like it should work. Best I can offer right now, anyways.
     
  11. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Great point Liz!

    Thanks Minstrel, as long as the first thing he does when he wakes (sundown) he takes his angles, he is able to keep an eye on the time - cool, simpler the better.

    Still googling this though and apparently it's mentioned in Genesis 1:14-18 that the sun and moon were put in place to tell seasons and times of the year but also days and hours within the day so if they even published this 1600-2000 years then there was obviously a way. For those that interested in this topic here is a guy who thinks he's finally mastered the "Lunar Clock". A bit too complicated for me though and I think he needs a mechanical clock to start his experiment. http://www.theswordbearer.org/p009_moon.html

    It's funny how it's mentioned 16-20 centuries ago but not since...

    Thank you guys
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    For the passage of time at night, the stars are the best indicator. If you recognize a few basic constellations, you can follow their progress across the sky. The parade changes from season to season, but all you really need to know is the constellation on the eastern horizon when the sky darkens after dusk. When the same constellation approaches the western horizon, dawn is near.

    The moon is visible even through thin clouds, but you need to "read" the phase as well as the position to estimate the time of night, and it's little help if it isn't in the sky at the time.

    There are other indications if you're familiar with the area. Certain animals are active, and vocal, at different times of the night. Mist and dew develop at different times of the night. And the sky fades to black over a coupe of hours after sundown, and the eastern glow develops over a imilar span before sunrise.
     
  13. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Animals awakening and dew - perfect!
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If you want a trickier twist, you can judge time easily by the Moon and the planets. Have you ever watched Venus rise and set? These nearby objects move overhead just like the Sun would.

    Of course so would the constellations, but they depend a tad more on latitude. If you are very far north the stars move like a circle overhead and if you don't stop and align yourself with a compass, it's hard to judge the time. If one is near the equator then the stars would move across the sky like the Sun does.

    It doesn't matter what phase the Moon is in if you pay attention to where it rises. Same with the planets and the constellations. If you think about it, the tides come and go by roughly the same 12 hour intervals with only a slow drift over the Moon's cycle. The Moon is tidally locked with the Earth so the Earth's rotation reveals the time of night by where in the night sky the Moon is.

    Also the closer to the poles you are, the longer the twilight and dawn. Near the equator, it goes from light to dark more quickly.

    I am an avid skywatcher. :D
     
  15. Mans
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    Mans Contributing Member

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    Basically, the ancient people were not in need of knowing the accurate time anymore except for some particular job. They were two groups :

    1-The ordinary people that they weren't needful to know the daytime and nighttime accurately. They usually guessed the time based on their intellect or experience. Also there were some groups of experienced people that they taught the persons how they realize the hours of the day or the night ( by observing the sun, moon and stars situations ) . Of course in the various seasons the daytime and nighttime was different but usually that old people were familiar to those difference tentatively. Besides, the brain's clock of the ancient people was more systematic than the nowadays people because they hadn't something such as the technical clock so they were much more attentive to the nature than we recent centuries people.

    2- The early scientists and those who had the sensitive job didn't encounter the time as usual people inaccurately. They tried to learn or discover a scholastic or scientific method to know the time accurately and regularly but nevertheless they had to get help of the sun , moon and stars conditions similar the ordinary people but they did do this more observing and punctilious
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Time of day or night would be a problem at the poles, day or night, without a compass setting. Given that the night is six months long there, it;s even more difficult.

    Telling time by the moon is trickier than by the stars, for reasons I mentioned previously. Telling time by the planets is more difficult than using the stars, because the posiions of the planets are not fixed relative to the stellar background. The inner planets are a little better, but they are never very distant from the sun, so you will only see them near dawn or shortly after sunset.

    But what you said about the stars is just wrong. It takes very little knowledge of the stars to get compass directions as well as the passage of time - except at or near the poles.

    The moon is tidally locked. That part is true, but all it means is the same hemisphere always faces the earth, give or take a few degrees (libration). However, tidal locking has absolutely nothing to do with where in the night sky the moon is. The moon is tidally locked with the earth, but the earth is not tidally locked, either with the moon or with the sun.

    Still, the lighted portion of the moon always faces the sun So the phase of the moon does tell you the angle between the moon's position and the sun's position. The sun's position determines the time of day or night, even if the sun is where it cannot be seen. So the phase of the moon, together with its position in the sky, tells you the time, and it also gives you compass directions (the horns of a crescent moon describe a north-south axis, and the features on the full moon's surface will also give you compass alignment).

     
  17. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    How to tell time without a clock. Makes it easy. It also adds a dimension I hadn't thought of. As Cog notes, ;), the phase of the Moon can tell you where it is in relation to sunset and sunrise. For example:
    There's also a polar star clock method on the web page.
     
  18. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    The things you can learn on this site -- astounding, sometimes!
     
  19. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    haha love the 'sometimes'

    thank you all for your help but I think it's way too complicated to explain how a vampire tells the time at night - I'll make it comedic


    "C'mon guys we only half half hour before the sun is up, we need to find camp quick"
    "How can tell the time without the sun?" asked the newly sired Vampire.
    "You see the moon? Now look at that constellation"
    "Yeah?"
    "Well, we took the angle earlier from the horizon to the first moon shadow and measured it off the plough. Venus is about 35 degrees from that inner planet which means the third wave is on its way."
    "And that gives you the time to sun-up?"
    "No, that gives you the pattern of the Aurora Borealis which is caused by a magnetic field charged by the earth's atmospheric conditions. Tonight is clear yeah?"
    "Yeah?"
    "So the lack of moisture in the air, alligned with the half lit moon tells us we need to get a move on".
    "And you can tell we only have half hour to find cover by looking into a near black sky?"
    "Actually no, that dammed cockerel is awake and if we don't get our heads before he crows we're fucked!"
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Then make it simpler. He listens and hears the morning birds twittering. Time to hide, lest the sun make an ash of him.
     
  21. TimHarris
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    TimHarris Senior Member

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    Now, I realize I know little about the universe of your story, but what about making up some kind of device that would help you tell the time? Ever seen one of those fluorescent stickers that will glow in the dark after being exposed to light? Maybe there could exist some kind of device that would work like that.

    Example:

    I see this as a working device. It basically works as a countdown device that is reset at sundown after soaking up sunlight from the evening sun. Each hour, the light emitted by the rock grows weaker, and one of the runes stop glowing. The user would have to know how many hours of night there will be before the sun comes up again, but then again, you need to know that with the common clock also.
     
  22. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks Tim, I was trying to stear clear of inventing a device and it seems my attempt a humouring the situation went down like a lead balloon so I may have to...
     

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