A unit of time or time unit is any particular time interval, used as a standard way of measuring or expressing duration. The base unit of time in the International System of Units (SI), and by extension most of the Western world, is the second, defined as about 9 billion oscillations of the caesium atom. The exact modern definition, from the National Institute of Standards and Technology is:
- The duration of 9192631770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom.
Historically units of time were defined by the movements of astronomical objects.
- Sun based: the year was the time for the earth to rotate around the sun. Year-based units include the olympiad (four years), the lustrum (five years), the indiction (15 years), the decade, the century, and the millennium.
- Moon based: the month was based on the moon's orbital period around the earth.
- Earth based: the time it took for the earth to rotate on its own axis, as observed on a sundial. Units originally derived from this base include the week at seven days, and the fortnight at 14 days. Subdivisions of the day include the hour (1/24th of a day) which was further subdivided into minutes and finally seconds. The second became the international standard unit (SI units) for science.
- Celestial sphere based: as in sidereal time, where the apparent movement of the stars and constellations across the sky is used to calculate the length of a year.
These units do not have a consistent relationship with each other and require intercalation. For example, the year cannot be divided into 12 28-day months since 12 times 28 is 336, well short of 365. The lunar month (as defined by the moon's rotation) is not 28 days but 28.3 days. The year, defined in the Gregorian calendar as 365.24 days has to be adjusted with leap days and leap seconds. Consequently, these units are now all defined as multiples of seconds.
Units of time based on orders of magnitude of the second include the nanosecond and the millisecond.