The Earth is spinning faster and recently recorded its shortest day ever, scientists say. June 29, 2022 was 1.59 milliseconds lower 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 accelerated, shortening some days by milliseconds. “Since 2016, the Earth has started accelerating,” said Zotov, who works for Lomonosov Moscow State University and just published a study about what could be causing the changes in the Earth’s rotation. “This year it’s spinning faster than in 2021 and 2020.”
Zotov and his colleagues think the fluctuation could be caused by the Earth’s tides.
He says not every day is getting shorter, but if the trend continues, atomic time – the universal way time is measured on Earth – may have to change. Some scientists propose introducing a negative leap second. “Since we cannot change the clock arrows attached to the Earth’s rotation, we adjust the scale of the atomic clock,” he said.
Unlike leap years, which have an extra day added, a negative leap second would mean clocks jump a second.
Some engineers object to the introduction of a leap second, as it could lead to large-scale and devastating technological problems. Meta engineers Oleg Obleukhov and Ahmad Byagowi, who is also a researcher, wrote a blog post about it for Meta, which supports an industry-wide effort to stop future leap second introductions.
“Handling negative leap seconds has been supported for a long time, and companies like Meta often run simulations of this event,” they told CBS News. “However, this has never been verified on a large scale and will likely lead to unpredictable and devastating outages across the world.”
The concept, which was introduced in 1972, “primarily benefits scientists and astronomers as it enables them to observe celestial bodies using UTC [Coordinated Universal Time] in most cases,” 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 could cause a jump in time, causing computer programs to crash or even corrupt data, a negative leap second would be worse, they claim.
“The impact of a negative leap second has never been tested on a large scale; it could have a devastating effect on software relying on timers or schedulers,” they write. “In any case, every leap second is a major source of pain for the people managing the hardware infrastructure.”
The pair think one of the many contributing factors to Earth’s faster rotation could be the constant melting and refreezing of ice caps on the world’s tallest mountains.
“This is the law of conservation of momentum that applies to our planet Earth. Each atom on the planet contributes to the momentum of Earth’s angular velocity as a function of distance from the axis of Earth’s rotation,” Obleukhov and Byagowi told CBS. New. “So once things are moving, Earth’s angular velocity can vary.”
“This phenomenon can be visualized simply by thinking of a spinning figure skater, who manages angular velocity by controlling their arms and hands,” they said. “As they extend their arms, the angular velocity decreases, preserving the skater’s momentum. As soon as the skater retracts their arms, the angular velocity increases. The same is happening here right now due to rising temperatures on Earth. Ice caps are melting and lead to increased angular velocity.”
Zotov and his colleagues Christian Bizouard and Nikolay Sidorenkov will present their research at this month’s conference Asia Oceania Geosciences Society conference for the geosciences, according to Timeanddate.comwhich first reported on the Earth’s faster rotation and shorter days.