Is the Earth spinning faster? Did we just complete a day on Earth in less than 24 hours?
On June 29, 2022, our home planet reportedly completed rotating around its star in 1.59 milliseconds less than 24 hours. The quickest rotation of Earth around the Sun on July 29 was preceded by another shorter day recorded on July 26th when the Earth completed its day in 1.50 milliseconds less than 24 hours.
This is not the first time though that the Earth finished one rotation faster than what was measured and considered a standard time of rotation earlier. In 2020 too, Earth recorded its shortest 28 days since 1960. July 19, 2020, was also designated as the shortest day of that year as per observations made by scientists, as Earth had completed its rotation about 1.47 milliseconds lesser than 24 hours.
But wasn’t it earlier observed that Earth was slowing down? What about the ‘leap seconds?’
Since 1973, atomic clocks have been measuring Earth’s rotation time to be slowing down. The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) was making up for the slower rotation by adding leap seconds. This was probably deduced to be the impact of the Moon’s gravitational force.
Interesting Engineering (IE), a news outlet shared that we might be entering a phase of 50 years where we will experience shorter days.
So, what happened suddenly that could have led to Earth’s faster spinning? Let’s unravel its causes and possible consequences below.
Why is the Earth spinning faster?
Although at the moment there is no conclusive evidence regarding why is the Earth speeding up, some theories as per scientists are laid out below:
- One reason why Earth is spinning faster could be related to some seismic activity.
- As per some other claims, the reduction of the weight of the poles due to the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers could be another possible reason for this sudden change.
- Another reason could be that the molten core of the planet is moving over time.
- “Chandler wobble” could be another reason behind the faster rotations of Earth. Chandler wobble or Chandler variation refers to a minor deviation in the Earth’s axis of rotation relative to the solid earth. Discovered in 1891 by American astronomer Seth Carlo Chandler, this wobble amounts to a change of about 9 metres at the juncture where the axis intersects the Earth’s surface.
Scientists Christian Bizouard, Leonid Zotov, and Nikolay Sidorenkov described this wobble as a small quiver that can be observed when a top gains speed or slows down.
What are its immediate implications?
Now that you have some idea about why is the Earth spinning faster, let’s take a look at the possible consequences of Earth’s hastened rotation.
- Faster rotations of Earth could render GPS satellites useless. Wondering why? Well, this could be because the variation in Earth’s rotation remains unaccounted for in the atomic clocks of GPS satellites. A half-millisecond change in Earth’s rotation equates to about 10-inches or 26 centimeters space variation at the Earth’s equator. Global Positioning System satellites go around the Earth two times a day. Also, they have to be corrected for Einstein’s general theory of relativity. So, they would malfunction if such rotational changes continue to arise on a day-to-day basis.
- This would call for the inclusion of negative leap seconds or drop seconds in the atomic clocks by international timekeepers to solve the problem for GPS satellites.
- Usually, a clock progresses from 23:59:59 to 23:59:60 before resetting itself at 00:00:00. The drop in seconds while the Earth rotates faster would cause the clocks to change directly from 23:59:58 to 00:00:00. This would further confuse smartphones, computers, and communications systems and make them useless as they are synchronized with Network Time Protocol (NTP). Thereby, it would end-up corrupting the data due to improper timestamps on data storage and ultimately crash programs.
Some bizarre facts about time
- Time zones don’t run in straight lines.
- Some countries don’t split their time zones while some countries and continents around them do so.
- Some countries set their clocks forward or backward to conserve or expand daylight during summer and winters. DST is used by 70 nations across the globe.
- Daylight saving time will be made permanent from 2023 onwards in the United States under the Sunshine Protection Act which would end the need to change the clocks twice a year.
- The islands of Samao, Tonga and Tokelau across the date line are 13 hours ahead of London. While Line Island is 14 hours ahead of London.
- The Prime Meridian or Greenwich Meridian is the zero-degree longitude line that passes through the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London, England.
- GMT is the Greenwich Mean Time which is the time at the zero-degree longitude.
- Earlier one second used to be defined as 1/86,400 of the length of the day. However, Earth’s rotation is not perfect. A day is, in fact, 23 hours 56 minutes and 4.0916 seconds long.
- 1972 onwards, atomic clocks in more than 50 countries were considered to be the absolute measurers of time. They are so accurate that they take about 31.7 million years to lose a second.
- The strontium atomic clock is the most accurate in the world which is placed at the National Institute of Standards in Colorado, United States. It measures the vibrations of a single atom of mercury and will lose a second only in a billion years.
- Planck time is the shortest moment of time which is 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 second as per quantum theory.
- Time passes quickly at Mt. Everest than it does at sea level. Einstein’s theory of relativity states that the closer one is to Earth, the slower the time runs for them.
Before the scientific community reaches any final inference on why is the Earth spinning faster, more data is needed to evaluate the causes and come up with precise solutions. Until then, keep watching this space for more updates from the world of climate, space, technology, and more. Subscribe to our newsletter and do drop your thoughts in the comments section.