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Leap Year? Leap Month?
by Paul

The widely used Gregorian calendar, also known as the Christian calendar and introduced in the year 1582, divides the common year into twelve months and 365 days.  The current year, 2012, however, has 366 days.  This one extra day labels 2012 as a leap year rather than a common year.  This extra day, whenever added to a common year, is always added to the month of February.  In every leap year therefore, February gains a day to extend its number of days from 28 to 29, making February the leap month.

A leap year occurs in every year that can be divided evenly by four, such as the years 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016.  Century years on the other hand, also become leap years but just as long as they can be divided evenly by 400.  So years such as 1600, 2000, and 2400 are leap years, while 1500, 1800, and 2300 are not.  

A leap year occurs nearly every four years to help match up calendar years with solar years.  A solar year is the length of time that it takes our planet Earth to orbit the sun, a time of slightly over 365 days, about 365.24 days.  For simplicity, this is usually rounded to 365 days.  It may seem at first that this nearly one-quarter of an extra day is not important, but after only four years it already adds up to nearly one day.  A leap year is therefore created nearly every four years so that the cumulative calendar years length catches up to the slightly longer solar years.

Just as the Gregorian calendar adjusts to the longer solar years, calendars of different nations and of different faiths also adjust to changes in ways depending on the structure, application, and origin of those calendars.  Where will you be, and what will you be doing on this year’s leap day?

(This year’s leap day is Wednesday, February 29, 2012).

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(February 26, 2012)

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