Another four years, another birthday for mom and son - Albuquerque Journal

Another four years, another birthday for mom and son

What are the chances for a woman who was born on a leap day

Corrales resident Lorina Justus and her son David Justus were both born on Feb. 29 – leap day. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
Corrales resident Lorina Justus and her son David Justus were both born on Feb. 29 – leap day. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

having a baby on a leap day?

Back on Feb. 29, 1972, the Los Alamos pediatrician who delivered David Justus told his mother, Lorina, that the odds were 2,134,521 to one.

Why would he make such a calculation? Because Lorina Justus herself was born on a leap day: Feb. 29, 1948, in Torreon.

Today is the extra day added to the calendar for leap year, which occurs almost every four years – more on that later – to keep the calendar straight because the world inconveniently refuses to circle the sun in exactly 365 days.

Lorina Justus looks over newspaper clippings published after her son, David Justus, was born on leap day – the same as his mother.
Lorina Justus looks over newspaper clippings published after her son, David Justus, was born on leap day – the same as his mother.

Without a leap year, for instance, eventually July would fall during winter in the northern hemisphere before eventually returning to its proper place in the middle of summer.

And, today, family members and friends will gather in Albuquerque for a big celebration of Lorina’s 17th and David’s 11th birthdays. They have smaller parties on years when short February ends on the 28th. I’ll let you do the math to figure out how old they really are (hint: multiply by four).

Lorina says the possibility of having a baby on leap day was not exactly at the top of her mind as she dealt with labor pains on the way to the hospital in 1972.

“I do remember there was full moon that night,” she says.

The birth was unusual enough to merit a story and photograph in the Los Alamos Monitor.

David says he appreciates the uniqueness of his birthdate. “It’s not just another day,” he says. “Well, it’s an odd day to be born on to begin with, but then to share it with your mother.”

He says it does cause occasional problems, such as drop-down functions on websites lacking the 29th for Februaries.

“You just work around it,” he says, adding that mostly it has been a characteristic he has been able to have fun with.

Lorina is retired now and says she enjoys taking care of her grandchildren at her Corrales home. Counting just birthdates, at 17 she just might be the youngest grandma in the area. Likewise, at 11 David may be the youngest employee at Sandia National Laboratories, where he works.

Here’s a summary of some of the science and history behind the leap year, in large part with information found on the EarthSky.org website “for people seeking scientifically accurate and compelling information about the Earth, outer space and the human world. … We’re dedicated to increasing science literacy, and to getting people excited about science!”

On the site, you’ll find some incredible photos of the sky and beyond, as well as information on what you’ll see if you look up on any given night. Check it out – it’s not just for geeks.

Hail Caesar

Julius Caesar added the leap day to the Julian calendar in 46 B.C. He didn’t come up with the idea himself but was advised to do so by an Alexandrian astronomer named Sosigenes. Ptolemy III Euergetes in the third century B.C. had tried to add a leap day to the Egyptian calendar of the times, but no one would follow it.

A leap day is added to the calendar almost every four years because Earth’s orbit around the sun is close to, but not exactly, 365 days. A year technically is about 365.2422 days – or, about 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds.

The leap day helps make up for the extra 0.2422 of a day. But because 0.2422 is still not exactly a quarter of a day, the calendar would still be out of whack over a very long period.

So, in 1582, a secondary fix to the calendar was made with the help of a German mathematician and astronomer named Christopher Clavius. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian calendar we still use today.

Under the Gregorian calendar, the extra leap day is not added in years ending in 00 unless the year is also divisible by 400. So, for instance, 1900 was not a leap year, but 2000 was. (Again, do the math yourself.)

By adding this twist, the calendar should be accurate for more than 3,000 years.

I don’t know about you, but I find it amazing and incredible that humans were able to do these calculations with such precision using the tools that were available in 46 B.C., or in 1582 for that matter.

If you can do better, perhaps they will name a new calendar after you. That seems to be the trend.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor Dan Herrera at 823-3810 or dherrera@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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