News & Events, Tech

Earth is spinning faster, which could mean major Tech shake-ups

The atomic clock is at stake.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Aug 21, 2022

In more apocalyptic news, the Earth is reportedly spinning faster, which scientists noticed when they recently recorded its shortest day ever. June 29, 2022 was 1.59 millisecond less than the average day. While this may sound minuscule and ridiculous to most people, it is actually a big deal and could significantly impact our lives.


Leonid Zotov, a scientist who works for Lomonosov Moscow State University recently published a study speculating on the possible reasons causing the change in Earth’s rotation and speed.


A typical day lasts 24 hours, or 86,400 seconds. However, the Earth’s rotation has sped up recently, shortening some days by a few milliseconds. It’s been found that the Earth has begun to accelerate since 2016 and it is rotating significantly more quickly this year than it did in 2021 and 2020.


Zotov and the team of scientists believe that this may be caused by the Earth’s tides. The constant melting and refreezing of the ice caps on the world’s tallest mountains is one of several causes that contribute to abnormalities in the Earth’s rotation.


If this change in a day’s time becomes more frequent, then we may have to change the atomic time (the way we universally measure time on Earth).


Some scientists have been proposing a solution that involves introducing a negative leap second, stating that it is easier to change the atomic clock scale rather than re-envisioning the entire system. This works in the opposite way that a leap year works. Where a leap year has an extra day, a negative leap second means the clock would skip one second.


You may think that this does not concern you, but that’s not completely true. Believe it or not, introducing a leap second could cause major and devastating tech issues.


Meta is rallying for an industry-wide campaign to stop the potential introduction of leap seconds. Engineers who work at Meta, Oleg Obleukhov and Ahmad Byagowi, shared in a blog post:

“While the leap second might have been an acceptable solution in 1972, when it made both the scientific community and the telecom industry happy, these days UTC is equally bad for both digital applications and scientists, who often choose TAI or UT1 instead. […] The impact of a negative leap second has never been tested on a large scale; it could have a devastating effect on the software relying on timers or schedulers.”


We all know that the real solution for this is taking immediate and effective action for climate change, but seeing as this is not happening fast enough, we may have to introduce a negative leap second and suffer the consequences of tech crashes later.


And, not to be the bearer of more bad climate-related news, but climate change is actually affecting your sleep.


Photo via NASA