Scientists Say Earth’s 24 Hours Now Shorter Than Ever

Nature

The speed of the planet’s rotations depends on the frequently complex motion of the innermost molten core along with its oceans, atmosphere, natural satellites, and other celestial bodies.

Earth from outside

(Photo : Photo from NASA)

Because of the constant changes in the conditions that aid in determining the speed that the planet spins, scientists have enough reasons to believe that every day is taking less than it is supposed to be. Earth has been spinning in an unusual pattern for quite some time. The planet is currently completing another rotation in 1.4602 milliseconds less than the usual solar day, which is 86,400 seconds or 24 hours.

On July 19, 2020, it was recorded that the planet was 1.4602 milliseconds shorter than the average solar day. That means that it did not complete the full 24 hours to complete its rotation. But, what had occurred was not an isolated case.

It was not a rare fluke in the natural flow of things. Because, as a matter of fact, this has been happening faster for decades. This was recorded since data collection began in the 1960s.

Despite the “time skip,” the IERS (International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service) did not recommend the usage of a “leap second” to be added to the world’s official timekeeping.

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Leap Seconds

A leap second is the one-second adjustment occasionally applied to the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to fit the difference between precise time (atomic clocks) and imprecise observed solar time.

The standard UTC, the one used for worldwide timekeeping and as a reference for cross country ventures, uses the precise atomic time. To keep it accurate, the need to put necessary leap seconds is implemented to keep it coordinated with the UTC.

As mentioned prior, Earth’s planetary rotation speed varies depending on various conditions like climatic and geological, even occasional cosmological events. Hence, the need for leap seconds. However, no single institution can just modify the system and add a leap second on the official timekeeping when they want it. As a matter of fact, leap second insertions are decided months before, usually six. The IERS announces it after deliberations and studies that prove its mandatory insertion.

But, as the planet continuously speeds up, the need for a negative leap second may eventually be needed. A negative leap second is the exact opposite of leap seconds. It might be the first time in history that a second will be removed from global clocks.

“It is certainly correct that the Earth is spinning faster now than at any time in the last 50 years,” Peter Whibberley, a senior research scientist with National Physical Laboratory’s time and frequency group, told The Telegraph, adding that “a negative leap second may be needed if the Earth’s rotation rate increases further, but it’s too early to say if this is likely to happen.”

What would happen if Earth started spinning faster?

Sure, the “faster” planetary rotation may just be milli- or nanoseconds, but what could possibly happen to the planet if it went a little faster, let’s say one mph.

It would change existence as we know it. The centrifugal force may shift, and gravity will be overwhelmed; the people and everyone on the planet will finally feel how a “spinning world” really is. Also, stronger hurricanes are inevitable if the Earth’s rotation picks up the pace with the spins. Possibilities of earthquakes or rolls might happen because of the unpredictability of the situation. Everything would never be the same.

READ NEXT: [UPDATE] NASA Sun Mission: How the ‘Ball of Fire’ Works

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