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Timekeeping on a grand scale – the 10,000 Year Clock

By

June 22, 2011

The 10,000 Year Clock is a giant timepiece that will be located in a remote cave in Texas,...

The 10,000 Year Clock is a giant timepiece that will be located in a remote cave in Texas, that is intended to keep time for the next 10,000 years (Photo: The Long Now Foundation)

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When we hear about things being built to last, we usually think in terms of years or decades ... or maybe, centuries. But millennia? Well yes, if you're talking about the 10,000 Year Clock. As its name implies, the 200 foot (61 meter)-tall timepiece is intended to run for 10,000 years, in a remote cave in West Texas. The clock's "century hand" will advance one space every 100 years, although individuals who make the trek to the cave will be able to hear it chime once a day. The whole project is designed to get people thinking in the long term.

Inventor Danny Hillis first came up with the idea for the "Clock of the Long Now" in 1989, and has been working on it ever since. Since that time, construction on a series of tunnels and chambers has been under way in the Sierra Diablo mountain range, in a location that is several hours from the closest airport, and that requires visitors to traverse a rugged trail that rises 2,000 feet (609 meters) above the valley floor.

The final design and engineering of the clock itself is reportedly near completion, with fabrication of the actual full-scale clock parts now in progress. Most of the parts will be made from stainless steel, although all of the bearings will be ceramic. It will be powered by a thermoelectric generator, which will create electricity from the difference in temperature between the sunny outdoors, and the cool interior of the cave. A "solar synchronizer" will allow it to self-adjust, so it keeps accurate time.

The face of a working 10,000 Year Clock prototype (Photo: The Long Now Foundation)

Once a day (so the plan goes), the clock's chime generator will create a different sequence of ringing bells. On its one-year anniversary, the clock will run a special orrery, which is a moving mechanical model of the Solar System. Besides the Sun and the planets, it will also include all the space probes launched in the 20th century. That orrery will continue to run once a year, on a yet-to-be-determined date at solar noon.

Special treats are also intended to take place on its ten year, 100 year, 1,000 year, and 10,000 year anniversaries, although Hillis is leaving the last three to future generations - a mechanical interface will be provided for them to implement their ideas. He's open to suggestions for what should happen on its ten-year anniversary, however.

So, is it even remotely possible to build a device that will keep running for ten millennia? It's hard to say, although the project seems to be as much about what it represents, as what the clock will actually be. "As I see it, humans are now technologically advanced enough that we can create not only extraordinary wonders but also civilization-scale problems," said Jeff Bezos, Hillis' partner in the endeavor. "We're likely to need more long-term thinking."

Much more in the way of details are available on the website of the Long Now Foundation, a group founded by Hillis, that promotes looking at the bigger picture.

The video below shows some of the clock's parts being put through their paces.

Source: Dvice

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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12 Comments

Apparently these people never studied history. This clock will either be forgotton or stripped or both in the next 200 years. Only stone structures of no value survive the fall of civilization, and every civilization falls.

If our civilization beats all odds and continues to progress, the clock will seem childish within 50 years.

WildZBill
22nd June, 2011 @ 06:02 pm PDT

Hmmmm

I like the idea... I think it's both really cool - and it's the type and quality that I like to build.

Enduring is a good word.

I am interested in the power supply for it... very good.

As far as the empire USA crumbling into a festering wasteland of GM toxic weeds and mutagenic dust...

Yes and when the phareo snuffed it and time rolled on for a bit, the people said... "See all that nice shiny lime stone on the pyramid - we can use that we can."

The pyramids only survived being totally repurposed because of their size.

This will be an interesting project to watch - from my low earth orbit space kingdom - for all eternity with Jeezers.

Mr Stiffy
22nd June, 2011 @ 06:57 pm PDT

How long is the warranty?

DixonAgee
22nd June, 2011 @ 08:03 pm PDT

Hmmmm, reminds me of the Myans.

Around 12000AD they're going to have movies about the end of the world in 12011, because that's when the clock stops.

hedgehog
22nd June, 2011 @ 09:40 pm PDT

The aim is not necessarily for the clock to last a long time, but for people visiting it to get some kind of an impression of the scale of time and human history. The premise being that short termism is the cause of a lot of the worlds problems.

Facebook User
23rd June, 2011 @ 04:01 am PDT

I am amazed at how mechanical this is....more difference engine than 21st century. Very Jules Verne.

MikeDeZ
23rd June, 2011 @ 06:56 am PDT

Get used to thinking in terms of infinity. There was NO first cause. The universe has always existed, it is infinite, and it will exist forever. Our observable space in this vastness is a mote in time.

Charles O. Slavens
23rd June, 2011 @ 07:42 am PDT

Can it speak cockroach? Then at least some'body' will be able to understand the 10,000 yr ring.

Stuart Saunders
23rd June, 2011 @ 08:06 am PDT

This reminds me of what St.Francis is suppose to have said when asked what he would do if he knew the world were to end tomorrow.

He smiled and replied,

"Plant a tree?"

This is more about the message than the machinery.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge-

for knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand,

while imagination embraces the entire world...

and all there ever will be to know and understand."

-Albert Einstein

Griffin
23rd June, 2011 @ 12:53 pm PDT

This is brilliant - but how are they going to keep dust, dead birds, bats, bob cats and rodents out of it?

Or even weeds?

It's like the erosion on the nuke fuel cannisters in the cooling ponds - caused by bacteria eating the stainless steel.

How can this be future proofed against things getting into it...

Mr Stiffy
24th June, 2011 @ 12:34 am PDT

Do we really needit?

JA
27th June, 2011 @ 07:04 am PDT

Its great. Really really great...

We should think big to grow larger and we could tell our descendents that how great and large we could think :)

You know Egyptians cause they made really great things...

Ahmad Usaf
27th July, 2011 @ 11:50 pm PDT
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