The Mars Clock

If you're here (which you clearly are), it's likely to do with a Tweet that I made in April 2021 that kind of took me by surprise! Firstly, thank you for coming here. And secondly, I've answered your question below (I hope).

What is it?

First and foremost, a clock. I'm a huge space nerd, and like many others (possibly including you), I've been watching SpaceX build out their Starship and Super Heavy booster in Boca Chica, Texas, over the last year or two. As I am in the UK, I can't simply "drive down" to see all this happening, as is the case for many of us. So I've been relying on various YouTubers and Boca Chica locals for the incredible footage and commentary on everything Starbase (see below). The most common question I asked myself was, "what time is it over there?". After a while, I'd simply subtract hours and guess, but what's the point of being a nerd and a maker (among other things) if you don't use those skills? So the Mars Clock was born.

What are the times on the clock?

This clock is set up for me, but there's no reason why it couldn't show ANY times you wanted. It's just a clock! The first time "Earth" is UTC. This just provides a reference to when Launch Providers give a time in UTC, but as I'm in British Summer Time (BST) right now, most of the time, UTC is my "timezone" anyway. Next up is "Starbase", which is Boca Chica, Texas (to be renamed Starbase, TX?). This does the subtraction I was doing in my head for me, saving me brain cycles. The last time is "Mars". Now, not strictly necessary, (neeeeeerrrrrrrrd) but why not? This is a real-time calculation on the Arduino Nano based on this website It took a while to get this to work on an 8-bit microprocessor, but being a developer by day, that was a whole lot of fun.

What do the dots mean above the times?

As the seconds in the calculations aren't the same as "Earth" seconds (they're a bit shorter), the colon blinks when the second value changes. This means that they are out of sync much of the time, which is fun to see. The dots above the numbers (the displays are upside down) are fifteen-second divisions. As I'm not showing the seconds value, this gives you an indication of the seconds passing.

Why a time for Mars?

I think I mentioned this? Neeeeeerrrrrrrrd! There is no official definition for a time on Mars (there is for individual missions), and with the varying delay in communication back and forth, it's all a bit of fun. It's inspirational to look at the clock and see it's "noon" on Mars (based on Mars Coordinated Time-ish) and wonder what the colonists would be doing right now. As a writer, this gets the old grey matter moving at times (each to their own).

How did you make it?

Ah, now this is mainly why I've put this page together in a hurry! I've had many people ask about plans, products, kits, etc. That hadn't even entered my mind when I posted the image last night (yes, I'm writing this the morning after) on Twitter. The design is relatively simple and consists of the following:

  • Arduino Nano (or clone)
  • Three 7 Segment LED backpacks (HT16K33 etc)
  • Three (might be more in later revisions) NeoPixel addressable LEDs (for the backlight)
  • An RTC module (such as RV3028)
  • Some wires
  • Some PLA 3D Prints
  • Some tinted acrylic
  • Some patience
  • Some coding

I'm on to about the fourth revision of the 3D model at the moment, and some more modifications need to be made. It's also a mess of wires inside, so definitely prototype territory at the moment!

How can I get one?

At the moment, you can't (at least from me). I love the space community, not just SpaceX, but all launch providers. If there's enough interest in this clock, then maybe it could become a thing? I'm not sure I'd want to build many, but there may be some room for a models and components list.

Will you make me one?

At the moment, not really. Doesn't mean to say I won't in the future if there is enough interest, though!

A huge shoutout!

This last item isn't really a question to answer. Still, I wanted to say a HUGE thanks to the community who makes all the space stuff accessible to those of us too far away from where it all happens. I would highly recommend checking out the guys and gals below for excellent content.


Keep in touch - I'm Interested

I'm working on this project in my spare time, so if you'd like to keep up to date with any plans for making your own, or a limited run, please use the Contact Form. If you follow me on social media too you'll see any updates there as well (although I might email special deals only to you).