Every year, billions of people across the globe flip on their TVs to count down to the new year and watch as the Ball slips down its pole. It’s been a tradition that’s happened on the roof of One Times Square since 1907.
Each year, the ball changes ever so slightly – so little that most people wouldn’t even notice a difference. Raymond Wong, writing for Dvice, braved torrential rains into the heart of New York City to see what those alterations would be for the 2012 New Year’s Eve Ball, which is decked out with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles and carries the theme of Let There Be Friendship this year.
From down on the streets, the New Year’s Eve Ball that now sits permanently above Times Square all year round looks the size of a basketball. You don’t realize what a looming structure it is until you get right down under it. It’s like the Death Star, only friendlier and without Peter Cushing.
The New Year’s Eve Ball weighs exactly 11,875 pounds. That’s the heft of 2,688 crystal triangles bolted onto the geodesic sphere, shining with the intensity of 672 LED modules – each module has 48 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs, for a total of 32,256 individual LEDs – reflecting off a sturdy aluminum frame.
Another thing you might not notice are the colors the Ball is capable of emitting. The average tourist won’t notice much of a difference when the Ball changes colors, but it can produce over 16 million colors with billions of unique patterns – plenty of which you can see in our gallery down below.
Like a big, bulbous dollar bill, everything has a hidden meaning: 288 of the Waterford Crystals form ‘Let There Be Friendship’ using a pattern of people holding hands around the world. Another 288 crystals create a Let There Be Courage ribbon medal design. Another 288 crystals form ‘Let There Be Love’ – a cascade of hearts. An additional 864 crystals form a ‘Let There be Joy’ design featuring an angel with uplifting arms. The final 960 crystals create a ‘Let There Be Light’ design showing a radiating sunburst.
In the last 102 years, the Ball’s been upgraded a total of seven times, each with more lightbulbs – now LEDs – than before. Compared to the original Ball’s 100 lightbulbs and 700-pound weight, 2012′s version is pretty much the Hulk. According to Regan Iglesia, vice president at Waterford Crystal, it’s gotten so heavy that the roof has been completely reinforced several times over in order to hold it and its 77-foot pole, which is also pretty weighty. With over 1 million people crowded together in Times Square waiting for six hours or more in the freezing cold for the Ball to drop – not to mention the over 1 billion TV viewers – Waterford and company can’t take any chances.
So, why a ball? It is in fact what’s based on what used to be called a “timeball” – a large painted wooden or metal ball that used to drops at a predetermined time, principally to enable sailors to check their marine chronometers from their boats offshore. Accurate timekeeping is one way of enabling mariners to determine their longitude at sea.
Timeball stations set their clocks according to transit observations of the positions of the sun and stars. Originally they either had to be stationed at the observatory itself, or had to keep a very accurate clock at the station which was set manually to observatory time. Following the introduction of the electric telegraph around 1850, timeballs could be located at a distance from their source of Meantime and operated remotely.
The first timeball was erected at Portsmouth, England in 1829 by its inventor Robert Wauchope, a Captain in the Royal Navy. Others followed in the major ports of the UK (including Liverpool) and around the maritime world. One was installed in 1833 at the Greenwich Observatory by Astronomer Royal John Pond, and the timeball has dropped at 1pm every day since then. Wauchope submitted his scheme to American and French ambassadors when they visited England. The US Naval Observatory was established in Washington DC and the first American timeball went into service in 1845.
Timeballs are usually dropped at 1pm (although in the USA they were dropped at noon). They were raised half way about 5 minutes earlier to alert the ships, then with 2–3 minutes to go they were raised the whole way. The time was recorded when the ball began descending, not when it reached the bottom. With the commencement of radio time signals from 1924, time-balls gradually became obsolete and many were demolished in the 1920s.
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