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A 10,000-year clock

By Andy Hallman | Mar 21, 2012

A 10,000-year clock


By Andy Hallman


One of the greatest engineering feats of all time is the Great Pyramid of Giza, which was built in Egypt in about 2500 B.C. For 3,800 years it was the tallest structure in the world. Modern skyscrapers have easily eclipsed its height but the pyramid’s longevity is still unmatched.

I recently discovered that a team of scientists is working on building something that, if completed, will be even more impressive than the Egyptian pyramids. The project is to build a mechanical clock that lasts for 10,000 years. Construction is already under way on the device, which will be underground at a remote mountain in western Texas. The clock is being funded by and built on ground owned by Jeff Bezos, the owner of amazon.com.

The clock will be about 200 feet tall underneath a limestone mountain. It will require a day’s hike to reach the mountain because no roads lead to it. Twenty gears that are 8 feet in diameter make up the clock’s interworkings. The best part of all is that the clock requires no humans to keep it running. The clock is powered by a thermal machine that receives power based on temperature changes. The greater the temperature change, the more power the clock receives.

Another quirk about the clock is that it also chimes. It chimes every millennium, and with a different tune each time. You can find out the exact time when you visit the clock, but you’d better bring a flashlight since only a sliver of natural light enters the chamber. To read the time, you first have to turn the clock’s dials. This is one way the clock conserves energy, by only displaying the correct time when there is a human there to power the dials. With no human to wind them up, the dials will continue to display the time of the most recent visitor.

The purpose of the clock is to encourage us to think differently about our time on earth. It makes us think about what kind of world we are leaving for the generations yet to come.

The 10,000-year clock seems like something out of science fiction. In the movie Waterworld, the earth has been almost completely flooded and the survivors live on boats and believe that dry land is a myth. The main character, Kevin Costner, has very unusual artifacts (such as crayons) that the others suspect are from dry land. Costner takes one woman to the bottom of the ocean floor to show her the source of his trinkets – a city that has been underwater for ages.

I can easily imagine a future civilization, very different from our own, coming across the clock and marveling at it, just as we marvel at the pyramids or Stonehenge and wonder how they could have been built.



Comments (1)
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Mar 25, 2012 02:09

The Spring 2012 Issue of The Grinnell Magazine takes a look at Grinnell College’s relationship with the world and the universe.

The cover story features astrophysicist Richard Fisher ’61, talking about how solar storms can — and soon may — wreak havoc on electrical and electronic infrastructures in the developed world.

The rest of the issue features Grinnell College as both a global village and a portal to the world:

Did you know that international students equal the number of students from Iowa on campus? Read what they bring to the campus, what they take away from their experience, and why they go to such extraordinary lengths to study here.

Find the answers to these questions and more in “Sun Storm!” as Richard Fisher ’61, one of the world’s most foremost authorities on the study of the sun, explains. “Sun Storm!” is one of many interesting articles in the spring issue of The Grinnell Magazine.

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