I guess we're all helping pay for this every time we fill up our gas tanks but it's their money. If they want to build gigantic clocks with the billions we contribute to their economy, it's their business.
This article out of England in the Telegraph tells all about it, and then gets seriously weird (why I'm posting about this otherwise uninteresting news). It seems some Muslims are annoyed about the fact that the standard of time around the globe is based on the time at longitude 0° - the site of the Greenwich Royal Observatory in southwest London.
The location of a zero line of latitude, the Equator, is easy to understand - it divides the Earth into a Northern and Southern Hemisphere based on its axis of rotation. Longitude lines, however, can start anywhere. A line running through the Royal Observatory was chosen as the Prime Meridian by English cartographers back in the 1700s because England needed accurate maps for seafaring and Britannia ruled the waves. An international conference in 1884 made it official, the Prime Meridian ran through Greenwich.
World time zones
Apparently, some in the Arab world don't like the fact that the time on clocks in London (Greenwich Mean Time) is the same as UTC. They see it at as Eurocentrism and their agenda, according to a Muslim quoted in the article, is "Putting Mecca time in the face of Greenwich Mean Time. This is the goal."
There are good reasons for putting the Prime Meridian in England. It means that the International Date Line, one the opposite side of the Earth, is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where it doesn't inconvenience too many people. If the Prime Meridian were in Mecca, the date line would run through the middle of Alaska. Inconvenient for people living there. We could switch but, at this point, why bother - it would just work up all kinds of nationalistic furor around the world (before the Prime Meridian was set at Greenwhich, various countries wanted to locate it at Copenhagen, Rome, Jerusalem, St. Petersburgh, and even Philadelphia).
Now the article gets strange:
According to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric known around the Muslim world for his popular television show "Sharia and Life", Mecca has a greater claim to being the prime meridian because it is "in perfect alignment with the magnetic north."
I have no idea what the hell that means. If I face toward magnetic north, I'm in perfect alignment with it too. Here's some more:
This claim that the holy city is a "zero magnetism zone" has won support from some Arab scientists like Abdel-Baset al-Sayyed of the Egyptian National Research Centre who says that there is no magnetic force in Mecca. "That's why if someone travels to Mecca or lives there, he lives longer, is healthier and is less affected by the earth's gravity," he said. "You get charged with energy."
Pure pseudoscientific nonsense. Makes me wonder about the Egyptian National Research Centre. If Mecca were a "zero magnetism zone" then compasses wouldn't work there, a trivial claim to test (and falsify). The "charged with energy" business is just woo.
What they may be talking about, however, is the zero line of magnetic declination. Turns out the north magnetic pole is not in the same place as the north geographic pole (which is fixed and located at the Earth's rotational axis). The north magnetic pole is in the Canadian Arctic around 83° N latitude, 114° W longitude. The Earth's magnetic field is generated in the iron core of the Earth and wanders with time (currently around 60 km/year).
Look at the diagram above which shows lines of magnetic declination for the Earth's magnetic field. It's very complex, monitored and studied by geophysicists, and changes slightly year-to-year. Note the zero line that passes through the middle of the U.S. This means that if I go to the middle of Minnesota, for example, my compass (which aligns to magnetic north) will point to true north (0° declination from north). Here in the Hudson Valley of New York, however, my compass will still point to magnetic north, but it will now be about 13.24° west of true north (13.24° W declination). Out in Seattle, my compass might be almost 17° E of true north! If you're doing geologic mapping with a compass, you have to account for magnetic declination or things won't be accurate to true north.
Is Mecca on a 0° declination line? Not exactly. It's close, as you can see on the diagram above, but not right on it (like some sites in the North and South America are). NOAA's National Geophysical Data Center calculates a magnetic declination of 3° E for Mecca. Anyway, if being on a zero line of magnetic declination makes one "lives longer, is healthier and is less affected by the earth's gravity" then we should all move to the middle of Minnesota (I've been there - I'll pass).
Funniest comment I read about this article (but an obscure reference for most people) is that the Muslim fundamentalists making these claims are the Juggalos of Arabia (watch this NWS video which made the rounds on numerous science blogs a few months ago to understand).