Earth Is Spinning Faster Than It Has In The Past 50 Years

by : Saman Javed on : 05 Jan 2021 16:23
Earth Is Spinning Faster Than It Has In The Past 50 YearsNASA/PA Images

Earth is spinning faster than it has in the past 50 years; so much so that the world’s timekeepers are debating whether to delete a second from time to account for the change.

As our planet is completing a full spin on its axis slightly faster than before, it means that on average, we are currently losing 0.5 seconds of a full 24-hour day, according to new data.


Timekeepers at the International Earth Rotation Service (IERS) have now said that deleting a full second from time could account for the overall change, and bring the time count back in line with the rotation of the planet.


A ‘negative leap second’ – or the deletion of a second in time – has never happened before. However, a total of 27 ‘leap seconds’ have been added since the 1970s to account for Earth taking slightly longer than 24 hours to complete a rotation.

Precise records of day length have been tracked since the 1960s, using atomic clocks. For the past 50 years, Earth has taken a fraction less than 24 hours (86,400 seconds) to complete one rotation.


However, since the middle of 2020, days are now consistently shorter than 86,400 seconds, as per The Telegraph.

The shortest day since records began – July 19, 2020 – was 1.4602 milliseconds shorter than a full 24 hours.

The previous shortest day on record before 2020 occurred in 2005. In the past 12 months, this record has been broken 28 times.


While 0.5 seconds is barely detectable in everyday life, the small loss has a large impact. In particular, satellites and communications equipment rely on the true time aligning with solar time, which is determined by looking at the positions of the Moon, Sun and other stars.

As a result, the IERS is now in debate over whether to rectify the difference.

Peter Whibberley, a senior research scientist in the National Physical Laboratory’s time and frequency group, told The Telegraph

It is certainly correct that the Earth is spinning faster now than at any time in the last 50 years. 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.


He added, ‘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.’

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The Telegraph
  1. The Telegraph

    The Earth is spinning faster now than at any time in the past half century