What is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)?

View exact Greenwich Mean Time

The history of GMT

Digital clock showing GMT

Did you know?
  • The name of the clock that shows Greenwich Mean Time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, UK, is Shepherd Gate Clock
  • GMT is used as Standard Time in the UK and several other countries and is also a time zone
  • Offsets or time differences are generally written as UTC/GMT plus or minus a number of hours.

The definition

Greenwich Mean Time or GMT is clock time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London. It is the same all year round and is not affected by Summer Time (Daylight Saving Time) clock changes.

When the sun is at its highest point exactly above the Prime Meridian, it is 1200 noon at Greenwich.

Check out the GMT timestamp to see how accurate your computer time is.

GMT is also a time zone, used by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) when Daylight Saving Time is not in use, from October to March.

The Greenwich Meridian (Prime Meridian or Longitude Zero degrees) marks the starting point of every Time Zone of the time zone map.

Daylight Curve Across World Time Zones

Every 15° longitude represents one hour's difference in time: (24 x 15 = 360, the degrees of a circle). You can work out the time at every location on earth if you know how many degrees it is east or west of Greenwich.

Where is Greenwich, England ?

  • Longitude 0° 0' 0"
  • Latitude 51° 28' 38"N (North of the Equator)

View here real-time clocks showing GMT/UTC offsets for 24 time zones across the world.

GMT is still widely used as the standard time against which all the other time zones in the world are referenced.

More to readWould you like to read some interesting facts and opinions about time and time-keeping? Browse all our ARTICLES.

Historical timeline

GMT was originally set up to aid naval navigation when travel around the globe started to open up with the discovery of the “New World” (America) in the fifteenth century.

Read more here about the connection between accurate time-keeping, GMT and sea voyages.

Greenwich was a royal park and palace on a hill to the south of the River Thames east of London.

In 1675 the great race to create accurate maps for navigators had begun and Charles II offered the land to The Royal Society for Britain's first national observatory. Christopher Wren was commissioned to design the domed building.

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John Flamsteed was appointed the Astronomer Royal. British mapmakers began to set Longitude from Greenwich and in 1884 it was adopted as the Prime Meridian.

Railways and National Time

With the introduction of the railways (railroads) in the mid-nineteenth century, Britain needed a national time system to replace the local time adopted by major towns and cities.

As Greenwich, due to the presence of the Royal Observatory, was the national centre for time and had been since 1675, the choice was obvious. Nevertheless, time as shown by the clocks at the Royal Observatory was not adopted officially by Parliament until 2 August 1880 .

GMT was then adopted by the United States (USA) on 18 November 1883. The chosen moment was at noon, when the telegraph lines transmitted time signals to all major cities. Prior to that there were over 300 local times in the USA.

On 1 November 1884, GMT was adopted universally at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, DC, USA. As a result, the International Date Line was drawn up and 24 time zones were created.

Today, GMT is used as the UK’s civil time. GMT has been referred to as “UT1", which directly corresponds to the rotation of the Earth, and is subject to that rotation’s slight irregularities. It is the difference between UT1 and UTC (Universal Coordinated Time) that is kept below 0.9s by the application of leap seconds.

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