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It seems that Starfleet ships have a need to align their onboard clocks with some broader sense of official Starfleet time. I'm interested in why this is needed & how it works.


As an example, in "Clues", Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 4, Episode 14, the Enterprise traveled through a wormhole (*) which transported them a distance equal to about 1 day's normal travel.

Upon realizing this Data suggests an operation to re-align the ship's clock:

PICARD: Thank you, Mister Data. Well, where the hell are we?

RIKER: Point five four parsecs from our original position. Almost a day's travel in just thirty seconds?

DATA: Sir, I should re-align the ship's clock with Starbase four ten's subspace signal to adjust for the time distortion.

PICARD: Proceed.

(emphasis added - source of transcript)

Maybe there are other examples in other ST episodes, but I couldn't think of any.


In general, what is the purpose of this procedure? Why does Starfleet need to align their clocks based on their local position?


(*)

Actually they didn't, but at the time of the quote most of the crew thought they had and would have been following procedures accordingly. Also, although this may have been a step taken by Data to aid the cover up of actual events, nonetheless it must still have been standard procedure in order to not raise suspicion.

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  • You seem to be asking two separate questions here; 1) Why does Data re-align the clock in this particular episode? and 2) Why do Starfleet send out time signals in general?
    – Valorum
    Aug 23 '20 at 9:02
  • @Valorum not really, I was just using the Clues episode as the example. I'm really just asking about the need for clock alignment. I can try to edit to make that clearer. Aug 23 '20 at 11:41
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The proper time on the ship will differ from the accepted standard time due to real world effects of Special and General Relativity. Additionally scifi stuff will cause ships to have different times like the wormhole example.

I don't think it is position so much as the local Starbase is the provider of the local authoritative clock.

Obviously one's clocks should be kept as accurate and synchronized as possible for official business reasons.

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  • Do they refer to SR or GR in Star Trek at some point? Aug 23 '20 at 11:43
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    Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking exist in the Star Trek canon. Data plays cards with them on the holodeck. Plus star trek is a harder science fiction so for the most part anything real in physics can be presumed to exist. It's the presumption that undiscovered physics is what will allow a starship to work. Aug 23 '20 at 20:43
  • Additionally, the fact that something like Warp Drive exists in Star Trek to go faster than light implies it is necessary to cheat Special Relativity. In a Newtonian universe to go arbitrarily faster all one needs is a stronger rocket. Though even in a Newtonian universe having an exotic propulsion system does make stopping and maneuvering potentially easier due to it being fictional. Aug 26 '20 at 4:15
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A better (and genuine) example of the need to readjust the displayed time on a starship would be TNG season 5 episode 18 "Cause and Effect" where the Enterprise was caught in a time loop along with the USS Bozeman.

Following their escape Picard orders Worf to communicate with a "Federation time-base beacon" to discover they had been caught in the loop for 17.4 days and when communication is opened with the Bozeman that the other ship had been trapped for 90 years.

In the case of "Clues" the starbase likely functions as such a beacon for the local region of space.

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  • This seems like an exceptional case. Sure in this instance their local clock would have been out of sync with the norm, but i doubt Starfleet had this scenario in mind when they built an infrastructure for clock syncronization. Aug 23 '20 at 11:45
  • This is more of an additional example than an answer. Aug 23 '20 at 21:07

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