On Tuesday, July 26, researchers set a new world record showing that the planet is spinning faster than ever, causing the days to get shorter. Using precise calculations and atomic clocks, scientists observed the change in time with the shortest day yet. However, scientists noted that despite this record, the Earth may be slowing down, making the days longer.
Matt King and Christopher Watson of the University of Tasmania wrote: “But despite this record, since 2020 this steady acceleration has curiously turned into a slowdown: the days are getting longer again, and the reason is so far a mystery”.
The Earth does not take exactly 24 hours to rotate on its axis, it usually varies slightly, even events such as earthquakes influence this time.
Professors King and Watson said: “Over millions of years, the Earth’s rotation has been slowing due to the frictional effects associated with the tides driven by the Moon.
“This process adds about 2.3 milliseconds to the length of each day every century.
“A few billion years ago an Earth day was only about 19 hours long.”
However, over the past 20,000 years since the last ice age, the melting of the polar ice sheets has reduced the surface pressure on Earth, causing the mantle to steadily move poleward.
The researchers wrote: “Just as a ballet dancer spins faster as they bring their arms toward their body, the axis around which they spin, so our planet’s rotation speed increases when this mass of mantle approaches the Earth’s axis.
“And this process shortens every day by about 0.6 milliseconds every century.”
Once scientists explain the minor fluctuations in rotation speed that we know happen due to tides and seasonal effects, they were puzzled by the findings.
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They found that despite breaking the record for the shortest day, “the long-term trajectory appears to have shifted from shortening to lengthening since 2020,” marking an “unprecedented shift” over the past five decades.
Researchers have put forward a number of different theories as to why this is happening, with some suggesting that weather events such as melting ice caps or the back-to-back Nina may have played a role.
Some even hypothesized that it might be related to the huge volcanic explosion in Tonga that injected large amounts of water into the atmosphere, but that seems unlikely given that the eruption took place in January ‘this year.
Professors King and Watson added: “Scientists have speculated that this recent and mysterious change in the planet’s spin rate is linked to a phenomenon called the ‘Chandler wobble’ – a small deviation in the Earth’s spin axis with a period of about 430 days.
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“Observations from radio telescopes also show that the wobble has decreased in recent years; the two may be linked.”
While the Earth appears to be suddenly slowing down, it is also moving further away from the Sun.
According to NASA, the Earth is, on average, about 150 million kilometers away from the giant fireball of flames, spinning in an elliptical orbit.
However, the average distance between Earth and the Sun has been slowly increasing over time, especially as the Sun loses mass.
Nuclear fusion, which involves turning mass into energy, is what powers the Sun.
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