The Earth is spinning faster, and recently recorded its shortest day ever, scientists say. June 29, 2022 was 1.59 milliseconds shorter than the average day, scientist Leonid Zotov told CBS News.
The normal length of a day is 24 hours, or 86,400 seconds. But in recent years, the Earth’s rotation has accelerated, some days shortened by milliseconds. “Since 2016, the Earth began to accelerate,” said Zotov, who works for Lomonosov Moscow State University and recently published a study on what might be causing the changes in Earth’s rotation. “This year it rotates faster than in 2021 and 2020.”
Zotov and his colleagues think the oscillations may be caused by the Earth’s tides.
He says not every day is shorter, but if the trend continues, atomic time—the universal way time is measured on Earth—might change. Some researchers suggest introducing a negative leap second. “Since we cannot change the clock hands associated with the Earth’s rotation, we adjust the atomic clock scale,” he said.
Unlike leap years, which have an extra day added, a negative leap second will mean the clocks skip one second.
Some engineers oppose the introduction of a leap second, as it can lead to major and devastating technical problems. Meta engineers Oleg Obleukhov and Ahmad Byagowi, who is also a researcher, blogged about it for Meta, which supports an industry-wide effort to stop future introductions of leap seconds.
“Negative leap second handling has been supported for a long time, and companies like Meta often run simulations of this event,” they told CBS News. “But it has never been verified on a large scale and is likely to lead to unpredictable and devastating power outages worldwide.”
The concept, which was introduced in 1972, “mainly benefits scientists and astronomers as it allows them to observe celestial bodies using UTC [Coordinated Universal Time] for most purposes,” they wrote in the blog post.
“Introducing new leap seconds is a risky practice that does more harm than good, and we believe it is time to introduce new technologies to replace it,” they write.
While positive leap seconds can cause a time jump, resulting in IT programs crashing or even data being corrupted, a negative leap second would be worse, they claim.
“The effect of a negative leap second has never been tested on a large scale; it can have a devastating effect on software that relies on timers or schedulers,” they write. “In any case, every leap second is a huge source of pain for people who manage hardware infrastructure.”
The pair believe that one of the many contributing factors to the Earth’s faster spin may be the constant melting and refreezing of ice caps on the world’s highest mountains.
“It’s about the law of conservation of momentum that applies to our planet Earth. Every atom on the planet contributes to the momentum of the Earth’s angular velocity based on its distance from the Earth’s axis of rotation,” Obleukhov and Byagowi told CBS News. “So, as things move around, the angular velocity of the Earth can vary.”
“This phenomenon can be easily visualized by thinking of a spinning figure skater, who controls the angular velocity by controlling the arms and hands,” they said. “As they spread their arms, the angular velocity slows down, preserving the skater’s momentum. As soon as the skater tucks the arms back in, the angular velocity increases. The same thing is happening here at this moment due to rising temperatures on Earth. Ice caps are melting and driving to increase the angular velocity.”
Zotov and his colleagues Christian Bizouard and Nikolay Sidorenkov will present their research at this month’s Asia Oceania Geosciences Society conference on geosciences, according to Timeanddate.com, which first reported on Earth’s faster spin and shorter days.
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