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01st Apr 2024

Earth is spinning so fast it’s going to ‘lose a second’ for the first time ever

Charlie Herbert

earth spinning

‘This is an unprecedented situation and a big deal’

Earth will have to lose a second at some point soon because our planet is spinning quicker.

Our planet is spinning at its fastest rate since records began, making days shorter and leading scientists to think we may have to lose a full second from a typical day.

The spin of the Earth is gradually getting quicker, meaning that a full rotation of the planet no doesn’t take exactly 24 hours.

In the past, scientists have occasionally had to add a leap second to computers so that they are aligned with the Earth’s rotation.

Since 1972, 27 leap seconds have been added to the world’s clocks so that systems such as computers and financial markets remain in line with the Earth.

But as the Earth spins quicker, an entire second will soon have to be removed for the first time, scientists have said.

This would see the clocks on a chosen day skip straight from 23.59.58 to midnight.

According to a new study though, the increase in the Earth’s spinning speed has been slowed slightly by the effects of global warming.

Experts have said the negative leap second is will be required three years later than expected.

The study’s lead author is Duncan Agnew, a geophysicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

He said the negative leap second is “an unprecedented situation and a big deal” and an indication that “we’re in a very unusual time.”

“It’s not a huge change in the Earth’s rotation that’s going to lead to some catastrophe or anything, but it is something notable,” Agnew said. “It’s yet another indication that we’re in a very unusual time.”

Explaining how global warming has affected the Earth’s rotation, Agnew told the Natural History Museum: “Imagine a skater spinning on the ice. If they hold their arms out, their spinning is slower, but if they bring them into their body, then they speed up.

This demonstrates the conservation of angular momentum, a principle which applies to all spinning objects, including the Earth.”

He continued: “As polar ice melts, the water spreads out over the whole ocean, causing the same effect as the skater spreading their arms out—the Earth slows down. More rapid melting would slow the Earth more rapidly, opposing the speedup that has been seen in recent years.”

Because a second has never had to be removed before, current software only has the ability to add time instead of subtract it.

Writing in an accompanying article to the study, Patrizia Tavella from the Time Department at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures suggested experts need to start working together to establish the potential impact and risks of the negative leap second.

She wrote: “A negative leap second has never been added or tested, so the problems it could create are without precedent.”

In the past, computers have struggled with leap seconds being added, and there are some calls for them not to be required at all.

Some tech companies have started adding tiny fractions of seconds over every day so that clocks remain correct without having to deal with leap seconds.

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