The Earth is spinning at record speed – and the day is getting shorter

The Earth is spinning at record speed - and the day is getting shorter

On July 29th of this summer, Earth got busy. Instead of the usual rotation time of exactly 24 hours, the globe shortened its time by 1.59 milliseconds. And this wasn’t the first time the planet had rotated faster than usual.

– This has been going on for some time. It is clear that the Earth has accelerated since 2015. The current day in July that we are talking about was slightly shorter than the day before and the day after, says Judah Levin.

He is a professor at the University of Boulder in Colorado and is working on American Standard Time.

How did one come to this discovery? Highly accurate atomic clocks are regularly compared with the speed of Earth’s rotation. This, in turn, is calculated by radio telescopes around the world. They measure the reception of radio signals from different stars which in turn are used to measure the angle of the Earth.


But why the Earth’s speed suddenly increased is somewhat unclear. For Fred Watson, a professor and advisor to the Australian government on astrological matters, the day of fasting came as a surprise.

We know that spin loses momentum in the long run. This is why we introduce a second leap year from time to time. Much of the orbital dip is due to the Moon’s attraction to Earth. Watson says that the moon absorbs energy from the Earth.

This effect means that the Moon is slowly but surely being pushed away from the Earth. The distance increases by about 3.78 cm per year.

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Several factors may explain the sudden increase in turnover. Among other things, it concerns the relationship between the globe and the atmosphere and between the earth’s crust, that is, the outer part of the planet, and its core. Global warming and melting at the poles could also have an impact.

Not completely round

The earth is not perfectly round. It has a liquid interior and a movable cap with a crust on top. When you then add in a thick layer of liquid, the world’s oceans, and an atmosphere that’s full of motion and affects many conditions, you can see the fluctuations in circulation, Watson says.

Individuals do not notice the slight increase in rotational speed. Instead, the problem is that it is internationally decided that the calculation of our time, which usually follows atomic clocks, must agree with the Earth’s rotation.

– If you do nothing, the rotation becomes out of sync with the atomic clocks. Watson says that today’s international legal rules state that if the difference is more than one second, the clocks must be adjusted.

In previous decades, when the Earth rotated more slowly, the problem was solved by adding a second leap year. Since 1972, this has been done 37 times.

A full 10 seconds were added to the leap year the first time and another 27 seconds after that, Levine explains.


Now it may be the case that in a few years a second will be removed if the Earth continues to increase its orbital speed. Levin believes the need will arise in six to seven years, but he made it clear that there is great skepticism about this.

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That never happened before. The tech world is vulnerable to the current system of leap seconds and fears an evolution as time is removed. According to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, leap seconds cause software crashes and data loss. Social media Reddit and Linkedin stalled when a leap second was introduced in 2012, as did Netflix and Instagram in 2015.

It is unclear how a negative leap second will affect the world. Meta warns and fears a devastating impact on software that relies on clock times. The company writes that those who deal with devices also suffer from every added second. Meta will remove the entire ranking.

Levine says the tech industry has chosen different techniques to solve the leap-second problem. Some, for example, pull the extra second over a longer period. On the Meta, the second runs over 17 hours to avoid system crashes.

must be coordinated

Levine believes it is unfortunate that companies themselves decide this based on what is best for them, but without seeing the action in an international perspective.

So why the controversy over a second leap year? A difference of just over a minute over the course of 50 years makes no difference to an individual. Levine shares this way of looking at him.

But at the same time, the International Standard Time for navigation and astronomical observations is used. The awkwardly precise timing is the link between time and the Earth’s rotation.

The positions of the various celestial bodies are entered into very precise tables, and they quickly become unreliable if time, or rather the day, starts to speed up. In the end, you may experience two completely different record times.

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Therefore, it is important that there is a correlation between astronomical time and atomic time. Without leap seconds, the connection gradually breaks, Levine says, and we risk crashing a whole host of apps and posts.

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

"Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff."

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