What day of the week does your birthday fall on this year? If American astronomer Richard Henry has his way, you won't have to check your calendar - because your birthday will fall on the same day of the week every year. The Johns Hopkins University professor would replace the familiar Gregorian 365-day year - in which one extra day is added every four years - with a 364-day year that features a leap week every five or six years.
Professor Henry's invention was inspired by the physics and astronomy classes he has taught for nearly three decades. Although the curriculum has remained essentially the same, the homework has been due on different dates each year and the exam dates have changed, as well. So, each year, he has to make up a different schedule for his students.
"I said to myself, 'I don't mind doing that because I have to do it,'" says Professor Henry. "But then one year I said, 'Wait, I'm a professional astronomer. Let me see whether this is necessary or not.' And quickly I discovered that it is not necessary at all."
That is because, under Professor Henry's Calendar and Time Plan, each 12-month period would be identical to the one that came before?totaling 364 days.
2009 would be the first year with the "leap week" called Newton. It would occur after June, which would always be 31 days long.
Each month in this revised year would have either 30 or 31 days, which means that eight months would be longer or shorter than they are now. Under his plan, March, June, September and December would each contain 31 days, while the other months would last 30. Instead of the quadrennial leap year of the Gregorian calendar, Professor Henry says his invention would add an extra week every five or six years.
"We have this extra day and quarter each year that we are missing out on," he explains. "So my idea is to accumulate those until we have a full week and then stick it in. That's the extra week, which I call Newton. I named it Newton because I'm a physicist, but I'm sure that if this idea does get adopted, there will be some kind of international conference and they will decide either a different name for it or just make a June one week longer."
Richard Henry says his calendar is more convenient and efficient than the one we use today. The Gregorian calendar has been in place for more than 400 years, ever since Pope Gregory modified the one instituted in 46 BC by the Roman emperor Julius Caesar.
When Professor Henry came up with his new time-keeping system three years ago, he wanted to share his idea with the world. "There was this new thing, the Internet," he says. "So I went ahead and I created the web page and sat back and waited for it to happen. And what happened? Nothing. Then, just to show the power of the old fashioned press, about three weeks ago our press relations person said, ' Let's put out a press release. And bang! Here I am talking on Voice of America."
The astronomy professor says he is aware that not everyone would like his new calendar. That is also what some random interviews seemed to indicate. "No matter how you look at it, what he is doing is very bold and daring," said a 20-year-old college student, "but I think there wouldn't be as much excitement if every Christmas is on a Sunday. I don't think this would be as exciting."
To a 35-year-old man, the proposed calendar "would make it easier for schoolteachers, for principals and administrators to do the planning if they knew that Christmas, Thanksgiving or Halloween would fall on the same day every year. This would make life a lot easier for them."
"We could plan ahead for birthdays and other special events," commented a 56-year old man. "I think it would be great to have a calendar of this type."
But, in the opinion of a 40-year-old wife and mother, "It would be boring?it's like everybody knows exactly what it is." And, speaking of the current calendar, another working mother said, "I like the unpredictability?I like the change."
Richard Henry is not deterred by his critics. He says human beings are naturally suspicious of any change, but can adapt if the benefits make it worth their while. Professor Henry believes his new calendar does just that, by simplifying our hectic lives. "I think this would add an extra note of calm and quiet to life [and] make us more relaxed," he says. "We can meditate a little bit more."
Not only does Mr. Henry hope to convince his fellow Americans of the advantages of his new calendar, he is looking to convince the whole world. After, all, he has to, to make it work. The Johns Hopkins University professor has established an on-line organization called the International Association for 2006 to rally support for introducing the 364-day year next January first. Even if that does not happen, Professor Henry says his efforts will not go to waste. They are part of his mission as a science educator -- to inspire his students to look for unconventional solutions.