Over the past two years, has felt more nebulous than ever. You would be forgiven for thinking that the days are passing at an increasingly rapid pace. According to scientists, this perspective is not wrong. On June 29, midnight arrived 1.59 milliseconds earlier than expected. It was the shortest day in more than half a century, at least since scientists began tracking the rate of Earth’s rotation in the 1960s.
Nor was it an isolated event. In 2020, the planet experienced what was, at the time, the shortest 28 days in recorded history. And just last week, July 26, the day was 1.5 milliseconds shorter than usual. “Since 2016, the Earth has started accelerating,” said Leonid Zotov, a researcher at Lomonosov Moscow State University. . “This year it’s spinning faster than in 2021 and 2020.”
The days have become much longer since the formation of the Earth. As notes that about 1.4 billion years ago, one rotation of the Earth took less than 19 hours. Days have lengthened, on average, by about 74,000ths of a second each year. But the rotation of the planet can fluctuate from day to day.
Scientists believe a number of factors can impact the Earth’s rotation, including earthquakes, stronger winds, melting and refreezing ice caps, the moon and the weather. Some have suggested that the so-called “Chandler wobble” may also have an effect on rotation. This phenomenon is a “small irregular deviation of the points of rotation of the Earth relative to the solid Earth”, as the dish.
To account for fluctuations in the length of days, since 1972 there have been occasional leap seconds – an addition of one second to Coordinated Universal Time. If the current trend of shorter days continues, it is possible that a negative leap second will be needed to keep clocks aligned with the rotation of the planet. As such, UTC would skip a second.
Leap seconds are already wreaking havoc on ultra-precise systems. As recently as last week, , which has caused outages at Reddit and Cloudflare for the past decade. A negative leap second could lead to even more chaos.
“With the change in the rotation pattern of the Earth, it is very likely that we will get a negative leap second at some point in the future,” said Meta engineers Oleg Obleukhov and Ahmad Byagowi. “The impact of a negative leap second has never been tested on a large scale; it could have a devastating effect on software that relies on timers or schedulers.”
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