Does it feel like the earth is spinning out of control these days? Well, turns out, it literally is. Scientists have discovered that the world, that pale blue dot that sustains all known life in the universe, is starting to spin faster. And we don’t know why.
A faster spin means shorter days and sure enough, June 29 of this year was the shortest day in recorded history. You may not have noticed, since it came in about 1.59 milliseconds shorter than the average day. But scientists are definitely taking note. Because the world’s upward spin shows no signs of slowing down — and even milliseconds pile up over time.
“Since 2016 the Earth started to accelerate,” Lomonosov Moscow State University’s Leonid Zotov told CBS News. “This year it rotates quicker than in 2021 and 2020.”
Zotov has published a paper theorizing that climate change is behind the increasing speed of rotation. Rapidly melting glaciers are adding more water to the oceans, which increases the size of the tides. The greater weight to the slosh of the tides puts more momentum behind our globe’s angular velocity.
Zotov uses the analogy of figure skater’s spin on the ice. Skaters can raise or lower their arms to control the spin, shifting the weight of their body to go faster or slower. The earth is a figure skater shifting her weight to make the spin go a little faster. Not much, just yet, but enough that it’s got experts wondering what we’re going to do about the atomic clock.
See, if a normal day is no longer exactly 24 hours, the universal measure of atomic time may have to be adjusted. Some scientists are proposing what they’re calling a “negative leap second.” It’s the same concept as a leap day, but instead of adding time, we subtract. A negative leap second would mean atomic time skips one second to get us all back on track with the world’s new rotation.
The problem is, many tech industry experts don’t think we have the infrastructure to handle a negative leap second, warning that it could lead to mass power outages, corrupted data and other Y2K-redux scenarios. Meta is leading the charge against a negative leap second, saying it could have a “devastating effect.”
So, all that to say, if you’re feeling like there just aren’t enough seconds in a day, you’re literally correct. Whether or not we’ll be able to course correct is anyone’s guess.