Earth Is Spinning So Fast Scientists Might Delete Time From The Day

Do you often feel like there’s less and less time in the day for you to get things done? Well, you’re not entirely making it up: The Earth is spinning faster. So fast, in fact, that scientists say they might actually remove a second from time altogether. (1)


The Earth Is Spinning Faster


Since scientists began recording it in the 1960s, the Earth’s 28 fastest days on record all happened last year in 2020. Typically, the Earth completes one rotation every 86,400 seconds, aka once every 24 hours. Scientifically, this is called a “mean solar day”. (1)


There were 28 days in 2020, however, the Earth took less time than that to make a complete spin. (2) The shortest day recorded so far was on July 9 of last year, when the Earth completed a rotation 1.4602 milliseconds shorter than the full 24 hours. (2)


A Sudden Pace Increase


This somewhat surprising considering the Earth was actually gradually spinning slower for the last few decades. (3) Since the 1970s, scientists have actually been occasionally adding leap-seconds in order to keep atomic time and solar time lined up properly. (2)


They have added leap seconds to 27 days since then, with the last one on December 31, 2016. Leap seconds are only ever added to either the last day of June or December. (2) Now, the world’s timekeepers have to decide if they should add a “negative leap second”, aka delete a second from time. (2)


“It’s quite possible that a negative leap second will be needed if the Earth’s rotation rate increases further,” said Peter Whibberley, a senior research scientist at the National Physical Laboratory. “But it’s too early to say if this is likely to happen.” (2)


Why The Earth Is Spinning Faster


There are many factors that can affect how fast the Earth rotates. These include everything from weather patterns and climate to movements and changes at the Earth’s core. (1)


Atmospheric scientist David A. Salstein talked about this all the way back in 2003.


“Changes in the atmosphere, specifically atmospheric pressure around the world, and the motions of the winds that may be related to such climate signals as El Niño are strong enough that their effect is observed in the Earth’s rotation signal,” he explained. (1)


El Niño vs La Niña


El Niño is the periodic natural warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean. La Niña is the natural cooling of the same part of the Pacific. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA), el Niño tends to cause the Earth to slow down, whereas la Niña speeds it up. (1)


In 2020 we experienced la Niña. (1)


Many scientists also agree, however, that the Earth’s faster pace is related to global warming, the melting of the glaciers, and the rising sea levels. (3)


Melting Ice Is Speeding Up The Planet


When the polar ice melts, that water runs off into the sea. Without the ice to weigh it down, the rock underneath is now free to jut upward. This causes the North and South Poles to become less flat, making the Earth more round. (4)


This redistribution of mass from the water in the sea and the changing shape of the planet cause the Earth to shift slightly on its axis. This shift is speeding up the Earth’s rotation. (5) The phenomenon is known as “Monk’s Enigma” after oceanographer Walter Monk who first studied it. (5)


Speed Play


According to a recent study done by scientists from Harvard and the University of Alberta, while the Earth’s crust (what we are standing on) has been slowing down, the Earth’s core has actually been speeding up for a really, really long time. (3)


“Over the past 3000 years, the core of the Earth has been speeding up a little, and the mantle-crust on which we stand is slowing down,” says study co-author Mathieu Dumberry of the University of Alberta. (3)


The Earth is Spinning Faster. Are We In Danger?


If you’re reading this and freaking out, take a deep breath and relax. Scientists estimate that the Earth is spinning only about a half a second faster on average each day. (2) If the Earth ever does reach a point where it is spinning so fast that it becomes unlivable, it won’t be for millions of years. (6)


Without some changes, however, this could eventually affect satellites. This would interrupt television broadcasting, communications, military, and intelligence operations. (6)


Would this be inconvenient and expensive to fix? Yes. Catastrophic to the human race? Certainly not. (6)


If the planet were to speed up a lot, perhaps by 100mph, hen things would get a little crazy. Our days would be two hours shorter, so we’d either have to adjust to a 22-hour day or we’d have to set our clocks back by two hours every single day. (6)


This would most definitely throw off our own natural body clocks, and animal and plant life would also have trouble adapting to this new schedule. (6)


High-speed spinning could also cause more severe and extreme weather, such as stronger hurricanes. An increase of 100mph would cause water to accumulate at the equator, submerging places like Northern Australia, the Amazon Basin, and equatorial islands. (6)


The faster the Earth spins, the worse this would become. Keep in mind, however, that it is extremely unlikely that the Earth will ever reach those speeds. If it ever did, it would happen gradually over the course of millions of years. (6)


“There’s no conceivable way that the Earth could spin up so dramatically,” said NASA astronomer Sten Odenwald. “To spin faster it would have to be hit just right by the right object, and that would liquify the crust so we’d be dead anyway.” (6)


In conclusion, yes – the Earth is spinning faster, but no, we are not under threat by any means. Perhaps we’ll lose a second out of our day, but you were most likely spending that second on something unimportant anyways.


  1. USA Today.
  2. WGNTv.
  3. Smithsonian Mag.
  4. PNAS
  5. Advances.
  6. Pop Sci. 

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