The term ephemeris time (often abbreviated ET) can in principle refer to time in connection with any astronomical ephemeris. In practice it has been used more specifically to refer to:
Most of the following sections relate to the ephemeris time of the 1952 standard.
An impression has sometimes arisen that ephemeris time was in use from 1900: this probably arose because ET, though proposed and adopted in the period 1948–1952, was defined in detail using formulae that made retrospective use of the epoch date of 1900 January 0 and of Newcomb's Tables of the Sun.
The ephemeris time of the 1952 standard leaves a continuing legacy, through its ephemeris second which became closely duplicated in the length of the current standard SI second (see below: Redefinition of the second).
History of ephemeris time (1952 standard)
Ephemeris time (ET), adopted as standard in 1952, was originally designed as an approach to a uniform time scale, to be freed from the effects of irregularity in the rotation of the earth, "for the convenience of astronomers and other scientists", for example for use in ephemerides of the Sun (as observed from the Earth), the Moon, and the planets. It was proposed in 1948 by G M Clemence.
From the time of John Flamsteed it had been believed that the Earth's daily rotation was uniform. But in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with increasing precision of astronomical measurements, it began to be suspected, and was eventually established, that the rotation of the Earth (i.e. the length of the day) showed irregularities on short time scales, and was slowing down on longer time scales. The evidence was compiled by W de Sitter (1927) who wrote "If we accept this hypothesis, then the 'astronomical time', given by the earth's rotation, and used in all practical astronomical computations, differs from the 'uniform' or 'Newtonian' time, which is defined as the independent variable of the equations of celestial mechanics". De Sitter offered a correction to be applied to the mean solar time given by the Earth's rotation to get uniform time.
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