Friday 13 April 2018

Friday factoid- Friday 13th occurs far too frequently.

Friday 13th is an unlucky day in the UK. British people stay at home, don't make eye contact in public, and spend their day complaining, mostly about the weather.
Did you know, however, that the 13th is more likely to be a Friday than any other day? And also, coincidentally, Friday the 13th is the equally-most likely day number/day name combination to occur?

Why? We know the year for the Earth (the time it takes us to do one orbit of the Sun) is 365.242189 days. This is annoying for calendar makers, as we just can't put an extra 0.256 days into each year. So what do we do? Well, we try and even it out over a 400 year cycle. We fix the year to have 365 days normally (remember the old rubbish rhyme: "30 days has September, April, June and November, all the rest have 31, except February...")

February has 28 days, except in a leap year, where it has 29. A leap year is defined as
  • any year which is divisible by 4 except
  • years divisible by 100 are not leap years except
  • years divisible by 400 are leap years.
If we repeat this on a 400 year cycle, then this means that the average year length is 365.2425 days (or very close to it)
If we work out the number of days in 400 years, then this is 146097 days; by chance this is divisible by 7, so it means that if a day is a Monday, the same day 400 years later will be a Monday. In other words, the minimum period the calendar cycles over is 400 years. Note that 146097/400=365.2425, very close to Earth's year.

We can then run a simple computer script to count the number of times that each number/day of week combination occurs in a 400 year cycle, and graph the results

This shows us that the 13th is a Friday 688 days out of every 400 year cycle, more than any other day. Also, we can see that Friday 13th is the joint most common number/day of week combination (all the yellow squares in the diagram). I have left off the 29th,30th and 31st just because it's a nicer pattern this way.

So is this important? No! But next time you have bad luck on Friday 13th remember, this day will happen 688 days in the next 400 years so you'd better get used to it...

1 comment:

  1. Some changes made above as I got the length of Earth's year wrong- I don't know the difference between a sidereal year and a tropical year!


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