Time is moving faster and days are getting shorter, scientists discover

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Time is moving faster than it ever has in the last 50 years. More specifically, Earth’s rotation is speeding up and could result in a ‘negative leap second’ being added or subtracted to the year.

According to Graham Jones, Astrophysicist & Science Communicator, and Konstantin Bikos from Time and Date, the speed of the Earth’s rotation is affected by a number of factors, such as the motion of its molten core, oceans, and atmosphere.

As such the average day in 2021 is expected to be 0.05ms (milliseconds) shorter than the 86,400 seconds that usually make up a 24-hour period.

Scientists at the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) can calculate when this event occurs by measuring the precise moment a star passes a certain location in the sky each day.

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“In fact, the year 2021 is predicted to be the shortest in decades. The last time that an average day was less than 86,400 seconds across a full year was in 1937,” Jones and Bikos write. “Should the Earth’s rotation get out of sync with atomic clocks, a leap second can be added or subtracted to ensure they remain aligned.”

“If the Earth’s rotation continues to quicken, we may at some point require a negative leap second. If this happens, our clocks would skip a second, in order to keep up with the hurrying Earth.”

Leap seconds were first introduced in 1972, and since then only 27 leap seconds have been used.

While these leap seconds have no real importance to the average person -ensuring that calculations and tracking measures are accurate to the second in certain fields such as astronomy, navigation, spaceflight, and computer networks, can be vitally important.  

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