Earth has just recorded the shortest day in its history: Here's what it means

Boris Ulloa
Boris Ulloa/EFE

Do you feel like you don't have enough time in the day anymore? You're all right. It turns out that the days really are getting shorter.

According to England's National Physical Laboratory, on June 29, the Earth experienced its shortest day ever, shaving 1.59 milliseconds off our typical 24-hour cycle, reported Popular Mechanics

This recently recorded phenomenon appears to be occurring more frequently. Popular Mechanics pointed to Time and Date , which reported that in 2020, the Earth experienced the shortest 28 days since "accurate daily measurements using atomic clocks began in the 1960s."

Here's the thing: scientists don't seem to know much more. The faster days could be attributed to a number of reasons, from changing tides to Earth's distance from the moon to the effects of climate change. Even a strong El Niño wind can change the clocks, according to NASA , as can a big enough earthquake . 

But as Dr. Leonid Zotov shared with Time and Date, it could be due to the "Chandler wobble," which is the extremely small irregular motion at the Earth's geographic poles.

"The normal amplitude of the Chandler wobble is about three to four meters at the Earth's surface," Dr. Zotov told Time and Date, "but from 2017 to 2020 it disappeared."

If the Earth continues its slowdown, it could have serious consequences for the way we tell time. Time and Date explained, the powers that be may need to introduce a "negative leap second" to ensure we stay aligned with atomic clocks, of which there are around 400 worldwide to ensure they all jump at the same rate. 

With the introduction of a negative leap second, the clocks would run exactly as described, effectively skipping a second to keep up. But this could also wreak havoc on technology systems, at least according to Meta , the parent company of Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram. 

"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," publication authors Meta Oleg Obleukhov, a production engineer, and Ahmad Byagowi, a research scientist, wrote.

On the other hand, this millisecond change might be nothing. After all, 1.4 billion years ago, an Earth day was only 18 hours long, as the moon was once much closer to our planet than it is now, causing the Earth to spin much faster. 

Also, the Earth doesn't exactly keep the best time, at least according to Fred Watson, Australia's astronomer general, who explained to Australia's ABC News that the planet regularly changes speed and usually slows down by about 3 milliseconds per day. per century.

When you start to look at the real crux of the matter, you realize that the Earth is not just a solid ball spinning," Watson said. "It has liquid on the inside, it has liquid on the outside, and it has an atmosphere, and all of these things slosh around a little bit"

Watson further explained that this slowdown is why scientists invented the original leap second intended to speed up time to keep atomic clocks and astronomical clocks (which accurately reflect the movements of the sun and moon) aligned.

So, perhaps instead of worrying about how fast or slow we move through this plane of existence, we can all agree that time is a construct. At the very least, we can all, including the very concerned technological community, take comfort in the fact that experts like Zotov think this is as fast as it gets.

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Hello, my name is Boris Ulloa, an international journalist living in New York.

New York, NY

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