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Everyday, at five minutes to one, a bright orange ball on the roof of Flamsteed House at Greenwich’s Old Observatory in London, slides half-way up a pole. At two minutes to one, it rises all the way to the top. At exactly one PM, the ball falls with a dull thud. Anyone who is looking at the ball when it drops can instantly verify whether their watches are telling the correct time. In this current age, when time could be easily synchronized over the internet or by using mobile signals or GPS technology, “time balls” are superfluous, but back in the Victorian era this was one of the few ways by which time was announced to the public.

Back in those days, few people could afford to have their own watches and clocks, instead relying on the hourly chimes of the church clock to tell time. The church clocks were not very accurate but most people had no need for precise time.

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The time ball atop Flamsteed House at Greenwich, London. Photo credit: Carmen Seaby/Flickr

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© Amusing Planet, 2016.


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