What would happen if the Earth started to spin faster?
There are plenty of things in life to worry about. nuclear conflict climate changes , and whether or not you brush your teeth correctly . It’s unlikely that the Earth will spin too fast. If it does, it won’t be a concern. We spoke to experts to find out how it would all end.
Let us start with the basics. How fast does the Earth spin right now? It all depends on where you live, because the Earth moves fastest around its waistline . Earth’s circumference is the largest at the equator as it spins around its axis. So a spot on the equator has to travel a lot farther in 24 hours to loop around to its starting position than, say, Chicago, which sits on a narrower cross-section of Earth. To make up for the extra distance, the equator spins at 1,037 mph, whereas Chicago takes a more leisurely 750 mph pace. This calculator will give you the speed based upon your latitude. )
The Earth’s pace changes every now and again, but only incrementally. For instance, this summer it skimmed 1. 59 milliseconds off its typical rotation time, making June 29 the shortest day on record. One theory is that pressure changes shifts the planet’s axis ,, but not enough to be felt by regular humans.
Little bumps aside, if the Earth were to suddenly spin much faster, there would be some drastic changes in store. Let’s say that the Earth rotates at a speed of one mile per hour. This would cause water to move from the poles and increase the level around the equator by a few inches. “It might take a few years to notice it,” says Witold Fraczek, an analyst at ESRI, a company that makes geographic information system (GIS) software.
[Related: If the Earth is spinning, why can’t I feel it? ]
What might be much more noticeable is that some of our satellites would be off-track. Satellites in geosynchronous orbit fly around the planet at a speed that matches Earth’s rotation so that they can remain in the same spot every time. Satellite communications, television broadcasting, military and intelligence operations, as well as satellite communications, could be disrupted if the planet speeds up more than 1 mph. Some satellites may have fuel, so they can adjust their speeds and positions accordingly. However, others may need to be replaced and that is expensive. Fraczek says that although these satellites could cause disruptions in the lives and comforts of some people, they should not be considered a threat to anyone.
But things would get more catastrophic the faster we spin.
You would lose weight, but not mass.
Centrifugal force from the Earth’s spin is constantly trying to fling you off the planet, sort of like a kid on the edge of a fast merry-go-round. Gravity is stronger than gravity and keeps you grounded for now. NASA astronomer Sten Olenwald says that if Earth spun faster, the centrifugal force could be boosted.
Currently, if you weigh about 150 pounds in the Arctic Circle, you might weigh 149 pounds at the equator. This is due to the extra centrifugal force generated by gravity’s acceleration. You’ll notice a further drop in your weight if you fast-forward.
Odenwald calculates that eventually, if the equator revved up to 17,641 mph, the centrifugal force would be great enough that you would be essentially weightless. This is assuming you are still alive. More on this later. )
Everyone would be constantly jet-lagged.
The faster the Earth spins, the shorter our days would become. With a 1 mph speed increase, the day would only get about a minute and a half shorter and our internal body clocks, which stick to a pretty strict 24-hour schedule, probably wouldn’t notice.
But if we were rotating 100 mph faster than usual, a day would be about 22 hours long. For our bodies, that would be like daylight savings time on boosters. Instead of setting the clocks back an hour, you would be setting them back two hours every day without giving your body a chance to adjust. The changing day length would also cause problems for animals and plants.
But all this is only if Earth speeds up all of a sudden. Odenwald says, “If it gradually speeds-up over millions of years we would adapt to that.”
Hurricanes would get stronger.
If Earth’s rotation picked up slowly, it would carry the atmosphere with it–and we wouldn’t necessarily notice a big difference in the day-to-day winds and weather patterns. Odenwald says that the main driver of wind is still temperature difference. However, extreme weather could become more destructive. “Hurricanes are likely to spin faster,” he said. “And there will be more energy in them .”
The reason why goes back to that weird phenomenon we mentioned earlier: the Earth spins faster around the equator.
If the Earth wasn’t spinning at all, winds from the north pole would blow in a straight line to the equator, and vice versa. Because we are spinning, the winds get deflected to the east. This curvature is known as the Coriolis effect and it is what gives hurricanes their spin. If the Earth rotated faster, the winds would be pushed further eastward. Odenwald says that this effectively makes the rotation more extreme.
Water would cover the world.
Extra speed at the equator means the water in the oceans would start to amass there. The water around the equator would become a few inches more dense at 1 mph, which would make it a few days faster.
At 100 mph faster, the equator would start to drown. Fraczek says that the Amazon Basin, Northern Australia and the islands in the equatorial area would all be under water. “How deep underwater, I’m not sure, but I’d estimate about 30 to 65 feet.”
If we double the speed at the equator, so that Earth spins 1,000 miles faster, “it would clearly be a disaster,” says Fraczek. The Earth’s waistline would be pulled by the centrifugal force, which would pull hundreds of feet worth of water towards it. “Except for the highest mountains such as Kilimanjaro and the highest summits in the Andes, I believe everything in the equatorial area would be covered by water.” The extra water would be pulled from the polar regions where centrifugal force would be lower so that the Arctic Ocean would be much shallower.
Meanwhile, the added centrifugal force from spinning 1,000 mph faster means water at the equator would have an easier time combating gravity. Fraczek predicts that these regions would have heavy moisture. Shrouded in a dense fog and heavy clouds, these regions might experience constant rain–as if they’d need any more water.
Finally, at about 17,000 miles per hour, the centrifugal force at the equator would match the force of gravity. Fraczek speculates that we might see reverse rain after that point. “Droplets of water could start moving up in the atmosphere.” At that point, the Earth would be spinning more than 17 times faster that it is now, and there probably wouldn’t be many humans left in the equatorial region to marvel at the phenomenon.
“If those few miserable humans would still be alive after most of Earth’s water had been transferred to the atmosphere and beyond, they would clearly want to run out of the equator area as soon as possible,” says Fraczek, “meaning that they should already be at the Polar regions, or at least middle latitudes.”
Seismic activity would rock the planet.
At very fast speeds–like, about 24,000 mph–and over thousands of years, eventually the Earth’s crust would shift too, flattening out at the poles and bulging around the equator.
“We would have enormous earthquakes,” says Fraczek. Fraczek says that the tectonic plates would move quickly, which would be catastrophic to the life on the planet .
How fast would the Earth spin in the future?
Believe it or not, Earth’s speed is constantly fluctuating, says Odenwald. Earthquakes, tsunamis, large air masses, and melting ice sheets can all change the spin rate at the millisecond level. If an earthquake swallows a bit of the ground, reducing the planet’s circumference ever so slightly, it effectively speeds up how quickly Earth completes its rotation. A large mass of air can slow down our spins, just like an ice skater who draws her arms in instead of drawing them in.
The Earth’s rotation speed changes over time, too. The moon was formed around 4.4 billion years ago when something large crashed into Earth. Odenwald estimates that the moon formed around 4.4 billion years ago. It was probably shaped like an enormous football and spun so fast that each day could have been just four hours long.
“This event dramatically distorted Earth’s shape and almost fragmented Earth completely,” says Odenwald. “Will this ever occur again?” We should all hope !”
Since the formation of the moon, Earth’s spin has been slowing down by about 3.8 mph every 10 million years, mostly due to the moon’s gravitational pull on our planet. It is more likely that Earth’s spinning will slow down and not speed up in the future.
“There’s no conceivable way that the Earth could spin up so dramatically,” says Odenwald. “To spin faster, it would have to hit just the right object. That would liquify our crust so we’d be dead
This post has been updated. It was originally published on May 17, 2017.
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