How to tell time from the sun

without a clock or wrist-watch

Use the sun to find out the time.

THE BIBLE SAYS GOD PLACED LIGHTS IN THE SKY for “signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years” (Genesis 1:14).

Everyone knows the sun and moon can help tell us the seasons, days, and years. You can even use your wrist-watch to help you find direction if you are lost, and use flowers as a clock to help you tell time. But how can you use the sun or moon for “signs”?

Well, one way is to use the sun to work out the time of day without looking at a clock or your watch. You can turn yourself into a walking clock anywhere there is sunlight!

How to do it …

Start by noticing the three easiest points in the sky to locate:

  1. where the sun rises (east)
  2. where the sun sets (west)
  3. the point right above you (or between the sunrise and sunset points if the sun never actually appears right above you).

Divide the sky into 12 sections to represent the 12 hours. Wherever the sun is, that's the time!Let's say sunrise in your area is around 6 a.m. and sunset is around 6 p.m. That means that midway between where the sun rises and sets it will be noon. Just imagine the whole arch of the sky from horizon to horizon as being 12 hours. That's because it takes around 12 hours for the sun to go from sunrise in the east to sunset in the west. (From your perspective it looks like this, but we know the sun isn't actually moving; the earth is rotating and so the sun looks like it is moving.) When the sun is almost directly over your head, the time will be noon.

Because the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west, you will know that if the sun is between where it rose and your noon point (overhead), it is still morning. If it has passed your noon point it will be afternoon. Halfway between the eastern horizon and noon point will be 9 a.m.; halfway between noon and the west horizon will be 3 p.m.

It is easy to divide the sky into 12 imaginary sections of one hour each. Just use the eastern horizon as 6 o'clock in the morning, noon as directly overhead, and the western horizon as 6 o'clock in the evening. So 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. will be halfway between noon and a horizon.


This will give you the current hour, and with a bit of practice you will be able to get parts of the hour. You won't be able to get the exact minute this way, but it should get you to within about 15 minutes if your sky-dividing is good.

By the way, we shouldn't have to warn you, but we will anyway: Never look straight at the sun because it can damage your eyes.

With a little practice you can get good at working out the time, but even on your first try you will probably be more accurate than you thought. You may need to vary the times a little to allow for the country you are in and the season it is now. But the times given above are a good average and will get you close to the right time almost anywhere that isn't close to the north or south poles.

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