10000 year clock
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A mechanism that will keep time for the next 10,000 years? Now that’s extended range!

A clock that keeps on ticking without human intervention is being created by some of our brightest, oddest engineering minds. The scale? Monumental. The meaning? Like art, as varied as those who visit and ponder it.

A man named Danny Hillis envisioned it back in 1989 as a clock that would keep time for the next 10,000 years, but more than that, as a creation that might foster a new kind of thinking . . . long-term thinking in an increasingly disposable society. It’s called the 10,000 Year Clock—or the “Clock of the Long Now”—named for the Long Now Foundation, a nonprofit that was established to foster just this kind of long-term thinking. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is on its board.

Some 30 years later, Danny Hillis’ company Applied Minds, Inc. is leading the design of this whimsical yet awe-inspiring creation. When complete, the Clock will rest deep in a mountain in West Texas—a part of the earth itself. To get there will require at least a half-day hike, 1,500 feet up, to the base of an imposing 400-foot-tall cliff and into a 12-foot-diameter tunnel, where a double door system made of stainless steel and jade will act as an airlock against dust and wild invaders. Hillis wanted to build a Clock that ticks once a year, where the century hand advances (logically) once every hundred years and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium.

Components of the clock, situated in a dome-shaped chamber atop several hundred feet of vertical shaft, will display the natural cycles of astronomical movement, as planets and stars reposition themselves in our night sky. To reach this chamber, visitors must make their way up several hundred feet of a spiral staircase cut directly into the walls by a diamond saw-wielding robot. This vertical tunnel is full of Clock mechanism and is lit dimly from above by sunlight, which is directed down the shaft by a series of mirrors and prisms.

Visitors will pass by the clock-winding station on their trek upwards. Here, several people can work together to turn a capstan that—through a series of massive gears made from stainless steel, titanium and ceramic—raises the Clock’s main weight. This weight, more than six tons of stone and metal, stores enough energy to run the Clock for centuries. Also on the way up is the chime generator. This highly complex mechanism—consisting of Geneva wheels, cams and linkages—calculates a unique sequence of chimes to ring each day for the next 10,000 years.

Finally, in the main chamber, atop the long staircase visitors have just climbed, is the heart of the Clock. Carefully protected in a case of stainless steel and quartz, are the

pendulum and escapement that actually measure the passing of time. At noon, and noon only, sunlight makes its way through a system of apertures, mirrors and prisms to power this synchronization.

Whimsical? Perhaps. Awe-inspiring? Definitely.

What I want to know is: Does it have an alarm that will actually wake me up in the morning? And how about a snooze button? One more decade, that’s all I need. Just let me curl back up into my comforter here . . .

The Chevrolet Volt may not run for 10,000 years, but fully charged its 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery powers it for an EPA-estimated 38 electric miles*. If you also have a full tank of gas, the total driving range is up to 380 miles. And if the battery runs low, the Volt automatically transitions to a unique gasoline-powered range-extending capability.

The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.

Corbyn Hanson Hightower is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post and More magazine. She would love for you to follow her on Facebook, and is confident her book will be coming out shortly.

Photos by Rolfe Horn, courtesy of The Long Now Foundation.
 

*EPA-estimated 38-mile initial range based on 98 MPGe (electric); plus 342-mile extended range based on 35 MPG city/40 highway (gas).

Assumes fully charged battery. Actual range varies with conditions.

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