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Science tells us why we can’t feel the earth rotating

By Sophie – on in News, Space, Culture
Unless you are a flat-Earther, you know that our planet is round and that it spins both on an axis and on itself. But whhy can't we feel it?

You will be aware, of course, that the planet we live on, its atmosphere and all it contains is permanently rotating. On the equator, it’s spinning at around 1675 km/h (1040 mph), and so as you read this you are moving at around 465 m/s (slightly less the further north or south you are).

You’d think you would feel this, but of course you can’t, so why not? The key is in the way the Earth moves. Imagine riding on a 300 miles per hour train; when you get up and go to the restaurant car, you can walk around just the same as if it was standing still. That’s because the train, you, and everything else inside the train is all moving at the same speed. If you want to get a sense of movement, you have to look outside at the scenery.

The same thing happens as the Earth spins; it revolves completely around its axis once every 23 hours 56 minutes, continuously moving at almost exactly the same speed at all times. You can feel the wind of this movement because the whole of the earth’s atmosphere rotates with it.

If the Earth changed its speed, you would notice that – in fact, it would be catastrophic, if the planet stopped spinning the atmosphere would still keep moving at 465 m/s; basically we’d be facing 465 m/s winds (over 1000 mph) that would be enough to wipe out pretty much all human life. However, as long as the earth keeps spinning at a constant speed, we don’t notice it.

The Earth spins so constantly because there’s nothing to prevent it from doing so. When the solar system came together from the remains of a dust cloud, it spun into a flattened accretion disk, bulging in the middle, and every planet took on the same spin. Billions of years later, the Earth, the Sun and all the other planets and moons are still spinning, as no force has appeared to stop them. If an external unbalancing force were to appear, i.e. some massive object were to come sailing into our solar system, everything could be thrown into chaos, but it’s been billions of years and it hasn’t happened yet.

As previously mentioned, the planet is spinning at a virtually constant rate; to be absolutely correct, due to the gravitational pull of the moon, the planet’s rotation is slowing down just a tiny bit. As the Moon tugs on the Earth’s tidal bulge, it creates friction, which lends energy to the orbit of the Moon.

Because of this slowing down (about 2/1000 of a second per day), about once every 20 months we have to add a “leap second” to our clocks so that they remain in alignment with the rotation of the earth. However, the decrease in the rotation is so slight and takes place over such a long period, we simply can’t feel it.

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Sophie

Sophie holds a bachelor's degree in biology. She has always been passionate about literature and writing, which is why she likes to write scientific articles for Get-Science whenever she has the opportunity. Although her favourite subject is biology (of course!), she is also interested in astronomy as well as the environment.