“If only there were fewer hours in a day,” said no one, ever.
Nevertheless, Earth slows down for no one. In fact, according to global time officials, it’s speeding up, prompting suggestions to shorten the minute by a second, the Telegraph reported.
Data shows our former 24-hour daily rotation is decreasing incrementally, making the day marginally shorter. For example, Sunday lasted only 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59.9998927 seconds, according to TimeAndDate.com. And though the planet’s rotation rate may speed up or slow down slightly from day to day, due to natural terrestrial and celestial alterations, astronomical calendar trends indicate that recent years have become shorter overall.
Case in point, 2020 beat 2005’s shortest day 28 times, and 2021 is slated to be about 19 milliseconds short of a typical year, with an average daily deficit of 0.5 milliseconds.
The world’s clock watchers are used to tinkering with time. Since the development of the atomic clock in the ’60s, “leap seconds” have been added 27 times to make up for slowing rotation, according to EarthSky.org. However, the last time the adjustment was called for was in 2016. Since then, Earth has begun rotating faster than usual, and now scientists suggest a possible “negative leap second” in order to bring time into equilibrium with our position in space.
“It is certainly correct that the Earth is spinning faster now than at any time in the last 50 years,” Peter Whibberley, senior research scientist with National Physical Laboratory’s time and frequency group, told the Telegraph.
“It’s quite possible that a negative leap second will be needed if the Earth’s rotation rate increases further, but it’s too early to say if this is likely to happen,” Whibberley continued. He added that an “international discussion … about the future of leap seconds” would determine whether or not timekeepers continue their attempts to make up for lost time.
The fractional difference may not be felt on an individual scale, but the implications are critical for science and technology as satellite communication and navigation systems rely on timing consistent with the cosmos.
As a result, some national leaders have pushed to do away with leap second corrections altogether in favor of using an unfettered atomic clock — shorter days and all. That decision will ultimately be left to the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2023, according to the Telegraph.