If you happen to see a family in Southern California with kids ages 8, 10, and 13 at the beach just before midnight or perhaps bowling at 4 a.m., they're not related to Edward Cullen or any other vampires. They're just living on Martian time.
It's all part of NASA engineer David Oh's grand experiment to allow his family to share in an adventure of planetary proportions he's been involved in at work lately. Oh is the flight director for the Curiosity rover, currently wheeling its way along the surface of the Red Planet and occasionally blasting a Martian rock with a laser every now and then.
To give the wife and kids a taste of what it's like to ride along with Curiosity, Oh and his family synced their lives to Mars time. In a nutshell, because Martian days are 3 percent longer than ours on Earth, the Ohs add about 40 minutes daily, meaning that meals and everything else occur at a different Earth time each day. That's what led to the late-night family excursions to the beach and the bowling alley.
Turns out the inter-planet time zone shift has been educational for the Oh children on more topics than just astronomy. On a blog kept by the oldest son, Braden documents a late-night grunion run on the beach, wonders at the lack of traffic on normally busy intersections at 1 a.m., becomes a connoisseur of late-night diners, and finds ways to stop daylight from ruining his new sleep hours.
The Ohs went on Mars time when the rover landed on August 5, in solidarity with David and Curiosity. But with school about ready to start, the experiment will cease once Mars and Earth time next sync up.
The entire thing is so sweet and cool, it's impossible to read the blog and not feel like a lame parent by comparison. In addition to crazy memories of late-night adventures, the Oh children are perhaps the only kids around who can say they saw their first shooting stars ever in the middle of the day, even if it was a Martian Day.