Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Time Bandit Earthquake Shifts Earth's Axis

Feel like there isn’t enough time in the day??? Well now there is less.

The magnitude 8.8 earthquake that hit Chile over the weekend — killing hundreds, and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless — may have shortened the length of each Earth day,
according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist, Richard Gross.

Dr. Gross computed how Earth's rotation should have changed as a result of the February 27 quake. Using a complex model, he and fellow scientists came up with a preliminary calculation that the quake should have shortened the length of an Earth day by about 1.26 microseconds (a microsecond is one millionth of a second.) This might not seem like much to you and I, but consider supercomputers that operate millions of times faster where even a few of nanoseconds came make a difference. So much for sleeping in during precious microseconds we just lost forever.

Perhaps more impressive is how much the quake shifted Earth's axis. Gross calculates the quake should have moved Earth's figure axis (the axis about which Earth's mass is balanced) by 2.7 milliseconds (about 8 centimeters, or 3 inches).

Earth's figure axis is not the same as its north-south axis; they are offset by about 33 feet. Now consider the earth has shifted, but the GPS satellites have not, which means due to the angles involved there are some positional errors, not to mention that any scientific experiments requiring accurate time will need to take it into account.