June 29 was the shortest day recorded on Earth

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If on June 29 you had the feeling that the day “flew by” it is because it actually did. In fact, that day midnight came 1.59 milliseconds earlier than expected. In other words, it was the shortest day since the 1960swhen scientists began to measure the planet’s rotation with highly accurate atomic clocks.

Researchers say that in general terms, the Earth completes a full revolution on its axis every 24 hours. That single spin marks a day and drives the cycle of sunrise and sunset that has shaped the patterns of life for billions of years. However, last June 29 was that 1.59 milliseconds shorter than 86,400 seconds, or exactly 24 hours.

The sequence, according to scientists, is not that unusual. What’s more, in recent years there has been a flurry of records, with shorter days becoming more frequent. In 2020, Earth had 28 of the shortest days in the last 50 years, with the shortest of them, July 19, shaving 1.47 milliseconds from the 86,400 seconds that make up 24 hours.

Although the Earth is slowing down in the long term, the situation is more complicated on shorter time scales. Inside the Earth there is a molten core; its surface is a mass of shifting continents, rising oceans, and melting glaciers. The entire planet is enveloped in a thick layer of gases and wobbles as it spins on its axis. All of them influence the rotation of the Earth, speeding it up or slowing it down, although the changes are imperceptible to us.

There are examples to understand it. NASA has explained that stronger winds in El Niño years can slow the planet’s spin, extending the day by a fraction of a millisecond. Earthquakes, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. The 2004 earthquake that triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean moved enough rocks to shorten the length of the day by nearly three microseconds.

Be that as it may, the Earth wobbles do not change our daily lives very much. But it’s important to keep track of them, so the atomic clock can remain accurate to precisely coordinate GPS and our planet’s observation satellites. [Business Insider]

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