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In modern usage, civil time refers to statutory time scales designated by civilian authorities, or to local time indicated by clocks. Modern civil time is generally standard time in a time zone at a fixed offset from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) or from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), possibly adjusted by daylight saving time during part of the year. UTC is calculated by reference to atomic clocks, and was adopted in 1972. Older systems use telescope observations.

In traditional astronomical usage, civil time was mean solar time reckoned from midnight. Before 1925, the astronomical time 00:00:00 meant noon, twelve hours after the civil time 00:00:00 which meant midnight. HM Nautical Almanac Office in the United Kingdom used Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) for both conventions, leading to ambiguity[clarification needed], whereas the Nautical Almanac Office at the United States Naval Observatory used GMT for the pre-1925 convention and Greenwich Civil Time (GCT) for the post-1924 convention until 1952. In 1928, the International Astronomical Union introduced the term Universal Time for GMT beginning at midnight, but the two Nautical Almanac Offices did not accept it until 1952.

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