An hour (symbol
: h; also abbreviated hr) is a unit
conventionally reckoned as of a day
and scientifically reckoned as 3,599–3,601 second
s, depending on conditions. There are 60 minutes in an hour, and 24 hours in a day.
The hour was initially established in the ancient Near East
as a variable measure of of the night
. Such seasonal, temporal, or unequal hours varied by season
Equal or equinoctial hours were taken as of the day as measured from noon to noon; the minor seasonal variations of this unit were eventually smoothed by making it of the mean solar day
. Since this unit was not constant due to long term variations
in the Earth's rotation, the hour was finally separated from the Earth's rotation and defined in terms of the atomic or physical second
In the modern metric system
, hours are an accepted unit
of time defined as 3,600 atomic seconds. However, on rare occasions an hour may incorporate a positive or negative leap second
, making it last 3,599 or 3,601 seconds, in order to keep it within 0.9 seconds of UT1
, which is based on measurements of the mean solar day
''Hour'' is a development of the Anglo-Norman
' and Middle English
', first attested in the 13th century.
It displaced tide tīd
, "time" and stound stund
, ''span of time''. The Anglo-Norman term was a borrowing
of Old French
', a variant of ', which derived from Latin
' and Greek
Like Old English ' and ', ''hṓrā'' was originally a vaguer word for any span of time, including season
s and year
s. Its Proto-Indo-European root
has been reconstructed
as ' ("year, summer
"), making ''hour'' distantly cognate
The time of day is typically expressed in English in terms of hours. Whole hours on a 12-hour clock
are expressed using the contracted phrase ''o'clock'', from the older ''of clock''. (10 am and 10 pm are both read as "ten o'clock".)
Hours on a 24-hour clock
("military time") are expressed as "hundred" or "hundred hours". (1000 is read "ten hundred" or "ten hundred hours"; 10 pm would be "twenty-two hundred".)
Fifteen and thirty minutes past the hour is expressed as "a quarter past" or "after" and "half past", respectively, from their fraction of the hour. Fifteen minutes before the hour may be expressed as "a quarter to", "of", "till", or "before" the hour. (9:45 may be read "nine forty-five" or "a quarter till ten".)
The ancient Greeks
originally divided the day into 12 hours and the night into 3
or 4 night watches.
The Greek astronomer Andronicus of Cyrrhus
oversaw the construction of a horologion
called the Tower of the Winds
in Athens during the first century BCE. This structure tracked a 24-hour day using both sundials and mechanical hour indicators.
The night was eventually also divided into 12 hours.
The canonical hours
were introduced to early Christianity
from Second Temple Judaism
By AD 60, the ''Didache
'' recommends disciples to pray the Lord's Prayer
three times a day; this practice found its way into the canonical hours as well. By the second and third centuries, such Church Fathers
as Clement of Alexandria
, and Tertullian
wrote of the practice of Morning and Evening Prayer, and of the prayers at the third, sixth and ninth hours.
In the early church, during the night before every feast, a vigil
was kept. The word "Vigils", at first applied to the Night Office, comes from a Latin source, namely the ''Vigiliae'' or nocturnal watches or guards of the soldiers. The night from six o'clock in the evening to six o'clock in the morning was divided into four watches or vigils of three hours each, the first, the second, the third, and the fourth vigil.
'' were originally personifications of seasonal aspects of nature, not of the time of day.
The list of twelve ''Horae'' representing the twelve hours of the day is recorded only in Late Antiquity
, by Nonnus
. The first and twelfth of the ''Horae'' were added to the original set of ten:
# ''Auge'' (first light)
# ''Anatole'' (sunrise)]
# ''Mousike'' (morning hour of music and study)
# ''Gymnastike'' (morning hour of exercise)
# ''Nymphe'' (morning hour of ablutions)
# ''Mesembria'' (noon)
# ''Sponde'' (libations poured after lunch)
# ''Elete'' (prayer)
# ''Akte'' (eating and pleasure)
# ''Hesperis'' (start of evening)
# ''Dysis'' (sunset)
# ''Arktos'' (night sky)
right|thumb|200px|A 7th-century Saxon Image:Bishopstone_sundial.jpg.html" style="text-decoration: none;"class="mw-redirect" title="tide dial">Image:Bishopstone sundial.jpg">right|thumb|200px|A 7th-century Saxon Bishopstone
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Medieval astronomers such as [[al-Biruni]] and [[Sacrobosco]], divided the hour into 60 [[minute]]s, each of 60 [[second]]s; this derives from [[Babylonian astronomy]], where the corresponding terms denoted the time required for the Sun's apparent motion through the ecliptic
to describe one minute or second of arc, respectively.
In present terms, the Babylonian degree of time was thus four minutes long, the "minute" of time was thus four seconds long and the "second" 1/15 of a second.)
In medieval Europe, the Roman hours continued to be marked on sundial
s but the more important units of time were the canonical hours
of the Orthodox
and Catholic Church
. During daylight, these followed the pattern set by the three-hour bells of the Roman markets
, which were succeeded by the bells
of local church
es. They rang prime
at about 6am, terce
at about 9am, sext
at noon, nones
at about 3pm, and vespers
at either 6pm or sunset
precede these irregularly in the morning hours; compline
follows them irregularly before sleep; and the midnight office
follows that. Vatican II
ordered their reformation for the Catholic Church in 1963, though they continue to be observed in the Orthodox churches.
When mechanical clock
s began to be used to show hours of daylight or nighttime, their period needed to be changed every morning and evening (for example, by changing the length of their pendula
). The use of 24 hours for the entire day meant hours varied much less and the clocks needed to be adjusted only a few times a month.
The minor irregularities of the apparent solar day were smoothed by measuring time using the mean solar day
, using the Sun's movement along the celestial equator
rather than along the ecliptic
. The irregularities of this time system were so minor that most clocks reckoning such hours did not need adjustment. However, scientific measurements eventually became precise enough to note the effect of tidal deceleration
of the Earth
by the Moon
, which gradually lengthens the Earth's days.
During the French Revolution
, a general decimalisation of measures
was enacted, including decimal time
between 1793 and 1795. Under its provisions, the French hour (french: ) was of the day and divided formally into 100 decimal minutes (') and informally into 10 tenths ('). This hour was only briefly in official use, being repealed by the same 1795 legislation that first established the metric system.
The metric system
bases its measurements of time upon the second
, defined since 1952 in terms of the Earth's rotation in AD1900. Its hours are a secondary unit computed as precisely 3,600 seconds.
However, an hour of Coordinated Universal Time
(UTC), used as the basis of most civil time, has lasted 3,601 seconds 27 times since 1972 in order to keep it within 0.9 seconds of universal time
, which is based on measurements of the mean solar day
at 0° longitude
. The addition of these seconds accommodates the very gradual slowing of the rotation
of the Earth
In modern life, the ubiquity of clocks and other timekeeping devices means that segmentation of days according to their hours is commonplace. Most forms of employment
, whether wage
labour, involve compensation based upon measured or expected hours worked. The fight for an eight-hour day
was a part of labour movement
s around the world. Informal rush hour
s and happy hour
s cover the times of day when commuting slows down due to congestion or alcoholic drinks being available at discounted prices. The hour record
for the greatest distance travelled by a cyclist within the span of an hour is one of cycling
's greatest honours.
Many different ways of counting the hours have been used. Because sunrise, sunset, and, to a lesser extent, noon, are the conspicuous points in the day, starting to count at these times was, for most people in most early societies, much easier than starting at midnight. However, with accurate clocks and modern astronomical equipment (and the telegraph or similar means to transfer a time signal in a split-second), this issue is much less relevant.
s, and astronomical clock
s sometimes show the hour length and count using some of these older definitions and counting methods.
Counting from dawn
In ancient and medieval cultures, the counting of hours generally started with sunrise. Before the widespread use of artificial light, societies were more concerned with the division between night and day, and daily routines often began when light was sufficient.
"Babylonian hours" divide the day and night into 24 equal hours, reckoned from the time of sunrise. They are so named from the false belief of ancient authors that the Babylonians divided the day into 24 parts, beginning at sunrise. In fact, they divided the day into 12 parts (called ''kaspu'' or "double hours") or into 60 equal parts.
Sunrise marked the beginning of the first hour, the middle of the day was at the end of the sixth hour and sunset at the end of the twelfth hour. This meant that the duration of hours varied with the season. In the Northern hemisphere, particularly in the more northerly latitudes, summer daytime hours were longer than winter daytime hours, each being one twelfth of the time between sunrise and sunset. These variable-length hours were variously known as temporal, unequal, or seasonal hours and were in use until the appearance of the mechanical clock, which furthered the adoption of equal length hours.
This is also the system used in Jewish law
and frequently called "Talmudic hour
" (''Sha'a Zemanit'') in a variety of texts. The Talmudic hour is one twelfth of time elapsed from sunrise to sunset, day hours therefore being longer than night hours in the summer; in winter they reverse.
The Indic day began at sunrise. The term ''hora'' was used to indicate an hour. The time was measured based on the length of the shadow at day time. A ''hora'' translated to 2.5 ''pe''. There are 60 ''pe'' per day, 60 minutes per ''pe'' and 60 ''kshana'' (snap of a finger or instant) per minute. ''Pe'' was measured with a bowl with a hole placed in still water. Time taken for this graduated bowl was one ''pe''. Kings usually had an officer in charge of this clock.
Counting from sunset
In so-called "Italian
time", "Italian hours", or "old Czech time", the first hour started with the sunset Angelus
bell (or at the end of dusk, i.e., half an hour after sunset, depending on local custom and geographical latitude). The hours were numbered from 1 to 24. For example, in Lugano, the sun rose in December during the 14th hour and noon was during the 19th hour; in June the sun rose during the 7th hour and noon was in the 15th hour. Sunset was always at the end of the 24th hour. The clocks in church towers struck only from 1 to 12, thus only during night or early morning hours.
This manner of counting hours had the advantage that everyone could easily know how much time they had to finish their day's work without artificial light. It was already widely used in Italy
by the 14th century and lasted until the mid-18th century; it was officially abolished in 1755, or in some regions customary until the mid-19th century.
The system of Italian hours can be seen on a number of clocks in Europe, where the dial is numbered from 1 to 24 in either Roman or Arabic numerals. The St Mark's Clock
in Venice, and the Orloj
in Prague are famous examples. It was also used in Poland
until the 17th century.
day begins at sunset. The first prayer of the day (maghrib
) is to be performed between just after sunset and the end of twilight. Until 1968 Saudi Arabia used the system of counting 24 equal hours with the first hour starting at sunset.
Counting from noon
For many centuries, up to 1925, astronomers counted the hours and days from noon, because it was the easiest solar event to measure accurately. An advantage of this method (used in the Julian Date
system, in which a new Julian Day begins at noon) is that the date doesn't change during a single night's observing.
Counting from midnight
In the modern 12-hour clock
, counting the hours starts at midnight and restarts at noon. Hours are numbered 12, 1, 2, ..., 11. Solar noon
is always close to 12 noon (ignoring artificial adjustments due to time zone
s and daylight saving time
), differing according to the equation of time
by as much as fifteen minutes either way. At the equinox
es sunrise is around 6 a.m. ( la|ante meridiem, before noon), and sunset around 6 p.m. ( la|post meridiem, after noon).
In the modern 24-hour clock
, counting the hours starts at midnight, and hours are numbered from 0 to 23. Solar noon is always close to 12:00, again differing according to the equation of time. At the equinoxes sunrise is around 06:00, and sunset around 18:00.
History of timekeeping in other cultures
The ancient Egypt
ians began dividing the night into ' at some time before the compilation of the Dynasty V Pyramid Texts
in the 24thcenturyBC.
By 2150BC (Dynasty IX
), diagrams of stars inside Egyptian coffin
lids—variously known as "diagonal calendars" or "star clocks"—attest that there were exactly 12 of these.
[ Clagett writes that it is "certain" this duodecimal division of the night followed the adoption of the Egyptian civil calendar,] [ usually placed BC on the basis of analyses of the Sothic cycle, but a lunar calendar presumably long predated this and also would have had twelve months in each of its years. The coffin diagrams show that the Egyptians took note of the heliacal risings of 36 stars or constellations (now known as "decans"), one for each of the ten-day "weeks" of their civil calendar.] (12 sets of alternate "triangle decans" were used for the 5 epagomenal days between years.) Each night, the rising of eleven of these decans were noted, separating the night into twelve divisions whose middle terms would have lasted about 40minutes each. (Another seven stars were noted by the Egyptians during the twilight and predawn periods, although they were not important for the hour divisions.) The original decans used by the Egyptians would have fallen noticeably out of their proper places over a span of several centuries. By the time of (BC), the priests at Karnak were using water clocks to determine the hours. These were filled to the brim at sunset and the hour determined by comparing the water level against one of its twelve gauges, one for each month of the year. During the New Kingdom, another system of decans was used, made up of 24 stars over the course of the year and 12 within any one night.
The later division of the day into 12 hours was accomplished by sundials marked with ten equal divisions. The morning and evening periods when the sundials failed to note time were observed as the first and last hours.
The Egyptian hours were closely connected both with the priesthood of the gods and with their divine services. By the New Kingdom, each hour was conceived as a specific region of the sky or underworld through which Ra's solar barge travelled. Protective deities were assigned to each and were used as the names of the hours. As the protectors and resurrectors of the sun, the goddesses of the night hours were considered to hold power over all lifespans and thus became part of Egyptian funerary rituals. Two fire-spitting cobras were said to guard the gates of each hour of the underworld, and Wadjet and the rearing cobra (uraeus) were also sometimes referenced as ' from their role protecting the dead through these gates. The Egyptian word for astronomer, used as a synonym for priest, was ', "one of the ''wnwt''", as it were "one of the hours". The earliest forms of ' include one or three stars, with the later solar hours including the determinative hieroglyph for "sun". [
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Ancient China divided its day into 100 "marks" running from midnight to midnight. The system is said to have been used since remote antiquity, credited to the legendary Yellow Emperor, but is first attested in Han-era water clocks and in the 2nd-century history of that dynasty. It was measured with sundials and water clocks. Into the Eastern Han, the Chinese measured their day schematically, adding the 20-''ke'' difference between the solstices evenly throughout the year, one every nine days. During the night, time was more commonly reckoned during the night by the "watches" of the guard, which were reckoned as a fifth of the time from sunset to sunrise.
Imperial China continued to use ''ke'' and ''geng'' but also began to divide the day into 12 "double hours" named after the earthly branches and sometimes also known by the name of the corresponding animal of the Chinese zodiac. The first ''shi'' originally ran from 11pm to 1am but was reckoned as starting at midnight by the time of the History of Song, compiled during the early Yuan. These apparently began to be used during the Eastern Han that preceded the Three Kingdoms era, but the sections that would have covered them are missing from their official histories; they first appear in official use in the Tang-era Book of Sui. Variations of all these units were subsequently adopted by Japan and the other countries of the Sinosphere.
The 12 ''shi'' supposedly began to be divided into 24 hours under the Tang, although they are first attested in the Ming-era Book of Yuan. In that work, the hours were known by the same earthly branches as the ''shi'', with the first half noted as its "starting" and the second as "completed" or "proper" ''shi''. In modern China, these are instead simply numbered and described as "little ''shi''". The modern ''ke'' is now used to count quarter-hours, rather than a separate unit.
As with the Egyptian night and daytime hours, the division of the day into twelve ''shi'' has been credited to the example set by the rough number of lunar cycles in a solar year, although the 12-year Jovian orbital cycle was more important to traditional Chinese and Babylonian reckoning of the zodiac.
In Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, the traditional system of noting hours is the six-hour clock. This reckons each of a day's 24 hours apart from noon as part of a fourth of the day. 7 am was the first hour of the first half of daytime; 1 pm the first hour of the latter half of daytime; 7 pm the first hour of the first half of nighttime; and 1 am the first hour of the latter half of nighttime. This system existed in the Ayutthaya Kingdom, deriving its current phrasing from the practice of publicly announcing the daytime hours with a gong and the nighttime hours with a drum. It was abolished in Laos and Cambodia during their French occupation and is uncommon there now. The Thai system remains in informal use in the form codified in 1901 by King Chulalongkorn.
The Vedas and Puranas employed units of time based on the sidereal day (''nakṣatra ahorātram''). This was variously divided into 30 ''muhūtras'' of 48 minutes each or 60 ''dandas'' or ''nadís'' of 24 minutes each.
The solar day was later similarly divided into 60 ''ghaṭikás'' of about the same duration, each divided in turn into 60 ''vinadis''. [ The Sinhalese followed a similar system but called their sixtieth of a day a ''peya''.
* air changes per hour (ACH), a measure of the replacements of air within a defined space used for indoor air quality
* ampere hour (Ah), a measure of electrical charge used in electrochemistry
* BTU-hour, a measure of power used in the power industry and for air conditioners and heaters
* credit hour, a measure of an academic course's contracted instructional time per week for a semester
* horsepower-hour (hph), a measure of energy used in the railroad industry
* hour angle, a measure of the angle between the meridian plane and the hour circle passing through a certain point used in the equatorial coordinate system
* kilometres per hour (km/h), a measure of land speed
* kilowatt-hour (kWh), a measure of energy commonly used as an electrical billing unit
* knot (kn), a measure of nautical miles per hour, used for maritime and aerial speed
* man-hour, the amount of work performed by the average worker in one hour, used in productivity analysis
* metre per hour (m/h), a measure of slow speeds
* mile per hour (mph), a measure of land speed
* passengers per hour per direction (p/h/d), a measure of the capacity of public transportation systems
* pound per hour (PPH), a measure of mass flow used for engines' fuel flow
* work or working hour, a measure of working time used in various regulations, such as those distinguishing part- and full-time employment and those limiting truck drivers' working hours or hours of service
* Horae, the deified hours of ancient Greece and Rome
* Hexadecimal hour, a proposed unit lasting 1h 30min
* Decimal hour or deciday, a French Revolutionary unit lasting 2h 24min
* Golden Hour & Blue Hour in photography
* Metric time
* , available in part her
* Christopher Walker (ed.), ''Astronomy before the Telescope''. London: British Museum|British Museum Press, 1996.
World time zones
Category:Orders of magnitude (time)
Category:Units of time