Not every day is made up of 24 hours, or rather, not with extreme accuracy. The July 29, 2022 in fact, a historical shift of the hands of the atomic clock was recorded, giving life to what has been defined on a scientific level the shortest day ever recorded.
With a spinning faster than usuala phenomenon that scientists still cannot fully explain, our planet is demonstrating a rather unusual behavior, so much so that it even reverses the trend that in recent decades had led scholars to develop a time calculation system capable of adapting to the oscillations of the timing of the earth’s rotation.
Today, therefore, we try to identify one or more causes and above all to give an explanation to all this in the light of the episodes that, from 2020, follow one another with increasing frequency, leading the days to progressively shorten by some imperceptible but crucial milliseconds.
Is the Earth spinning faster?
The atomic clocks available to the scientific community have measured a Earth’s rotation faster than usual with one day, that of July 29, which in fact ended 1.59 milliseconds earlier the expiration of the usual 24 hours.
It is not the first time that such an “anomaly” has been recorded in the duration of the Earth’s rotation, even if the last record dates back to 1960. The surprising fact is that in the past decades it was even thought the opposite, namely that the Earth was slowing down and not accelerating. Precisely because of that belief, the use of the so-called “leap seconds” was even implemented, ie fractions of a second added or subtracted from the coordinated universal time to keep it coordinated with the average solar day.
From 2020 however, scientists have begun to record the reversal of the trend by reporting shorter and shorter days to what is in effect a record without equal.
Causes and consequences: climate change and more
The truth is, it is not known for sure why the Earth is spinning faster. Not for this, however, scholars are not dedicating attention and interest to the case with research that they see prevail three main theoriesall equally logical and plausible.
First of all, the phenomenon could be connected to the melting of the ice caps or to the lightening of the two terrestrial areas that affect the rotation motion of the Planet. Another possibility concerns the modes of the inner core of the Earth which for two years has therefore been going through a period of upheaval and which therefore would not be foreseeable and in any way preventable in its hypothetical evolution.
Similarly we think of the “chandler wobble” or small oscillations of the earth’s axis studied for the first time by the astronomer Seth Carlo Chandler in 1891. Specifically, it is a minor motion of our planet, given by its non-sphericity, which has as effect is the cyclic shift of the Earth’s rotation axis of 3-4 meters from the North Pole with a period of 433 days. Further studies will be needed to validate the latter hypothesis, however at the moment it remains the most likely.
Coming instead to the visible effects of the phenomenon we can report several but the most immediately recognizable ones concern our electronic devices. In particular, we may experience inconvenience and accuracy problems in GPS systems or inaccuracies in synchronizing the watches of digital instruments such as PCs, smartphones and smartwatches.
Fortunately these problems can be solved with the introduction of negative leap seconds, but if this phenomenon were to be connected to the climate crisis, the long-term prospect could further condition our lives in an even more concrete and sensitive form.