The Days Are Getting Longer

Earth rotating on its axis (animation from Wikimedia Commons)
Earth rotating on its axis (animation from Wikimedia Commons)


The days are getting longer.  Really.

Though daylight is decreasing as we head into winter, the length of an Earth day is increasing overall. That’s because Earth’s rotation is slowing down due to tidal forces between Earth and moon, post-glacial rebound, and sea level rise.

The effect is too tiny to see.  It takes 100 years for the day to gain 1.4 milliseconds.  To put that in perspective, a day was 23 hours long for the dinosaurs and is close to 24 hours now.

The only way we can measure Earth’s rotation is by using an array of instruments stationed around the globe (VLBI) that precisely record their first sighting of certain quasars. We then crunch the data to arrive at the length of a day and add a second to our atomic clocks when necessary.

Want to learn how we measure a day?  See the video about quasars at this NASA link.


(*) Quasars emit radio waves so they aren’t actually seen, they’re heard.

(animation of earth’s rotation from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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