The Earth must have been over 2020 because the planet spun faster last year than it has in decades, according to scientists, as USA Today reports.
Graham Jones and Konstantin Bikos co-wrote via TimeandDate.com that Earth is typically an efficient timekeeper and that “it rotates once every 86,400 seconds, which equals 24 hours, or one mean solar day.” Though, that slightly changed last year. Though the co-authors acknowledged that Earth’s rotation equating to 24 hours isn’t always perfect.
“When highly accurate atomic clocks were developed in the 1960s, they showed that the length of a mean solar day can vary by milliseconds (1 millisecond equals 0.001 seconds),” Jones and Bikos wrote. “These differences are obtained by measuring the Earth’s rotation with respect to distant astronomical objects, and using a mathematical formula to calculate the mean solar day.”
The Earth’s 28 fastest days, since 1960, all happened in 2020. While last year felt never-ending for so many since the world went into lockdown last March due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 actually had the shortest days on record, according to TimeandDate.com.
Before this year began, the shortest day since 1973 was July 5, 2005, when the Earth’s rotation took 1.0516 milliseconds less than 86,400 seconds.
But in the middle of 2020, the Earth beat that record no less than 28 times. The shortest day of all came on July 19, when the Earth completed its rotation in 1.4602 milliseconds less than 86,400 seconds.
The Earth’s rotation can shift based on the movement of the planet’s core as well as changing patterns of the weather/atmosphere, oceans and other effects, TimeandDate.com reports.
The report furthermore states that if the Earth gets too off-base with the atomic clocks that a “positive or negative leap second can be used to bring them back into alignment.” Leap seconds were established in 1972 and the Earth’s rotation has been slow-moving at times. There have been 27 leap seconds between then and 2016, all positives that have added an extra second to our clocks and allowing the Earth to catch up.
Now the Earth is moving faster, and scientists say if this continue then negative leap seconds may be required and our clocks will skip a second to keep up with the planet.
Peter Whibberley, a physicist at the National Physics Laboratory in the U.K, elaborated on this sentiment via 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 told The Telegraph. “There are also international discussions taking place about the future of leap seconds, and it’s also possible that the need for a negative leap second might push the decision towards ending leap seconds for good.”