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The Wondrous Number 60

Have you thought recently about the number 60?

What a number!  And what a mystery! Why are there 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute?

Although I paid little attention in geometry class, I do remember that there are 60 minutes in a degree, and that each side of an equilateral triangle is 60 degrees. The oracle of our age, Wikipedia, tells me that we measure electrical utility frequency here in the US as 60Hz.  

The Babylonians had a sophisticated number system based on 60, and they got that idea from the Sumerians and the Akkadians. So this is an old, old idea.

Why did the Babylonians use 60? All kinds of numbers can be divided evenly into 60 – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30 – so this makes it easy to measure fractions of the whole 60.

It is believed the Babylonians counted the knuckles of their hand, using the thumb as the counter. If you do this, you see that you have 12 knuckles on each hand, and 5 hands then makes 60, so it is an easy number to work with!

But…. my research also tells me that a snowflake has six main arms that are 60 degrees apart! A honeycomb is a hexagon with outer angles of 60 degrees! Now we can’t blame these 60s on the Babylonians, can we? Woo hoo! A mystery!

Don’t you love the number 60, now?


© 2013 Margery Leveen Sher

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Reader Comments (1)

I feel much better now about having entered my 60s!!

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjc

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