2012 is special - And it's not because the world's coming to an end, but because it happens to be a Leap Year. This event, which occurs every four years means that instead of the normal 365 days, we will enjoy 366 days. That extra day, happens to be tomorrow, February 29th, 2012.
While it is a treat to have an extra day, the reason behind it is not just to have fun, but to balance out the differences between our calendar and the solar calendar. As you probably know, our normal 365 day year is measured on the approximate time it takes the earth to revolve around the sun. However, the operative word is approximate - It actually takes a little longer than that - 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds to be exact.
But adding this odd amount of time to every year would make for an awkward day, so thousands of years ago the Egyptians came up with the brilliant idea of rounding the time to 6 hours and then adding an extra day to the calendar, every four years. Soon, the Romans adopted it and Leap Year was born.
However, this led to a slightly different problem - We were now adding extra time every four years and though it's just a few minutes, over time it adds up. To balance it out, mathematicians came up with another solution - Leap Year occurs ever four years, EXCEPT, those years that end in double zeros that can be divided evenly by 100 - for example, 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years. Confused? Here's another rule - The years that end with 00 but are divisible by 400 are Leap Years - So for example, 2000 was a Leap Year!
So why go through all these complicated calculations? Because while the difference may seem minuscule, over the years, it adds up. For example, though after every four years the calendar would be behind by just under one day, after every 100 years the difference between the solar and our calendar year could add up to 25 days. This would mean that while on our calendar year, summer would be begin in June, according to the solar it would not be until a month later! If left unchecked, the timing of all our seasons could be impacted.
And if you are confused by all this, think of the 200,000 people in the US and the over 5 million worldwide, who are born on this day. It is bad enough that they get to celebrate their birthday once every four years or even worse, eight years, but they also have a hard time registering online for even things like e-mail accounts, because most programs don't recognize February 29th as a legit date!
Happy Leap Day to all of you and a very very very very Happy Birthday to the ones that are born on this extra special day. Be sure to let us know, if you are one of them.