www.whyville.net Feb 20, 2008 Weekly Issue

Times Writer

That Baffling Leap Year!

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Leap Year. That special year where February gets one extra day to make sure our seasons still line up with the rotation of the Earth. That year no one seems able to remember very well; was it last year, or is it this coming year? Well, here are a few simple rules for leap years for inquiring readers, and a few fun facts thrown in.

Leap Year Rules:

1. Every year that can be divided by four, IS a leap year.
2. Every year that can be divided by 100, IS NOT a leap year.
3. However, if a year divisible by 100 is also divisible by 400, it IS a leap year.

So, just to make sure you're not confused, let's get some examples of each rule. 2004 and 2008 are leap years according to rule number one. 1900 was not a leap year because of rule number two. 2000 was a special year because it was divisible by 100 and 400, so it was a leap year. Coincidentally 2000 was also the first time rule number three was ever used.

But why are leap years necessary? I'm sure every one of us has heard that the seasons won't match up with the date if we did not have leap years. To make it more clear, how about we put numbers with that and see if it makes sense that way. One year, from vernal equinox (the sun is directly above the Earth's equator) to vernal equinox, is 365.2422 days. Therefore, each year we lose that .2422, or roughly 6 hours. In just a hundred years, our year would be 24 days ahead of the seasons. This understandably causes a problem. Let enough time go by and we'd be celebrating Thanksgiving in the middle of the summer. But by inserting an extra day every four years, we can make up the time that is lost each year.

The concept of a leap year has been understood for many hundreds of years. King Ptolemy III introduced a calendar like the Julian calendar in 238 B.C. In ancient time, when lunar calendars were widely used, it was not unusual to have a leap month every two or three years.

The Mayan calendar used a system of 360 plus 5 days. These days were split into 13 months with five days left over that belonged to no specific month but were the transition into a new year. The Mayans formed their calendars based on their observations of the stars and planets and the sun. Other Mesoamerican civilizations adopted their calendar system, such as the Aztecs and the Toltec.

The man with the official longest name ever in use was born on leap day 1904. His name was Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhousenberdorf Sr.

Some other people born on February 29 are Jack Lousma, an astronaut and space shuttle commander for the United States, Jeff "Ja Rule" Atkins, a rap and hip hop artist, and Dinah Shore, a TV star and the one who sang "Blues in the Night."

Leap Day has another name, Sadie Hawkins Day. This was the one day of the year when women were allowed to propose to men. It started with St. Patrick and St. Bridget. St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for men to propose to them and he agreed that women could propose themselves every four years, on Leap Day. St. Bridget actually proposed to St. Patrick but was turned down!


Author's Note: Sources: http://www.timeanddate.com/date/leapyear.html


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