If it seems that the days are getting shorter; they are and have been since the summer solstice in June. But Earth recently recorded its shortest day for a completely different and unusual reason: Earth is spinning faster. Scientists have found the development puzzling, although they have a few theories about why it’s happening and what impact it may have on our lives.
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, Earth’s rotation has sped up, shaving milliseconds off some days. “Since 2016, the Earth started accelerating,” said Zotov, who published a study last March about what might be causing the changes in the Earth’s rotation. “This year it spins faster than in 2021 and 2020.”
This increased rotation does not shorten every day, just from time to time. But if it continues, the main way of measuring time on Earth, a high-precision universal method known as atomic time, may need to change. It may be necessary to add a negative leap second, in which the clocks would simply jump one second. “Since we can’t change the clock arrows tied to the Earth’s rotation, we adjust the scale of the atomic clock,” Zotov said.
But not all scientists are in favor of the negative leap second. In fact, Meta engineers Oleg Obleukhov and Ahmad Byagowi recently wrote a blog post criticizing the idea. They said that it could cause serious glitches in the technology, such as data corruption. The concept has never been tested.
Some scientists theorize about the Earth’s tides. Others think that the constant melting and refreezing of the polar ice caps is causing the Earth’s rotation to speed up and slow down.
“This is 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 as a function of distance from the Earth’s axis of rotation,” Obleukhov and Byagowi to CBS. . “So once things move, the angular velocity of the earth can vary.”
“This phenomenon can be visualized simply by thinking of a spinning figure skater who manages angular velocity by controlling his arms and hands,” they said. “As they extend their arms, the angular velocity decreases, conserving the skater’s momentum. As soon as the skater brings their arms back in, the angular velocity increases. The same thing is happening here right now due to rising temperatures in the Earth. The polar ice caps melt and lead to increased angular velocity.”
In 2020, the planet experienced 28 of its shortest days in the last 50 years. The United Nations-affiliated International Telecommunications Union has started adding occasional leap seconds in June or December. The first leap second was added in 1972 and since then 26 have been added.
According to Ars Technica, during a leap second, the clock ticks from 23:59:59 to 23:59:60 to 00:00:00. The medium’s “leap second” has caused tech problems in the past: a leap second added in 2012 led to crashes on Reddit, Gawker, and Australian airline Qantas. In 2017, a leap second killed Cloudflare.