- The shortest day on Earth was 1.59 milliseconds shorter than 24 hours.
- Scientists say the Earth could register more such shorter days, going forward.
- Tech companies have called against the ‘leap second’ strategy for compensating time.
We do not really afford particular attention to how time works — and assume it to be a steady progression defined by the Earth’s rotation around its own axis, and its revolution around the Sun. However, not everything is always uniform with our planet, as has been seen with the Earth’s latest record-setting rotation around its axis — producing the shortest day on the planet in its recorded history. Scientists in the know have pegged the blame for this on the ‘Chandler wobble’ — the quivering top spin effect that could cause momentous anomalies on spinning objects.
On July 29th, the Earth recorded its fastest rotation ever around its axis, finishing a day 1.59 milliseconds shorter than its typical 24-hour time span. While such time anomalies aren’t new, the moment marked Earth’s fastest rotation about its axis, ahead of its previous record of finishing 1.47 milliseconds shorter than 24 hours back in 2020. While the difference lies in bare milliseconds and is largely invisible to humankind, it is of great significance to science and technology, especially in the long run.
How shorter days affect our technologies
What shorter days eventually cause is to add up a time difference over the years, and all the milliseconds combine to find the anomaly of one second additional or missing from the 24-hour clock’s known structure. In simpler terms, due to Earth spinning faster, over time, these chipped off milliseconds add up to reduce one whole second from time as we calculate it.
This could have devastating consequences on technology as we know it today. Data centres, and modern day data transfer and the internet are all aligned to a Coordinated Universe Time (UTC) clock, which helps countries around the world to synchronise their data operations. Without this synchronisation, all data operations would be clueless in terms of when might a data transfer request have generated, and when to terminate it.
Long story short — if the synchronisation of the world’s clocks break, the internet and our communication systems will crash.
Companies around the world, such as content distribution network (CDN) provider Cloudflare and social media giant Meta Platforms have spoken about this, as well as the ‘leap second’ — the technique that scientists use to compensate for the lost or added time on Earth. These leap seconds are also complicated for the internet and technologies to handle, since while they compensate for an additional (or lesser) second, they too cause an anomaly across the world’s clocks, and cause a timing mismatch.
Scientists have called out the global community to find a resolution to helping the internet and data centres function smoother, even with the Earth’s time anomalies.
As for our planet, scientists state that the Earth may continue to spin faster and record shorter days in future — even though it will eventually slow down in the long run.