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Space & Astronomy

What would happen if the Earth stopped spinning ?

January 24, 2022 · Comment icon 13 comments

Could it really happen ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 NikoLang
Could our planet one day stop spinning and what would happen if it actually did ?
The Earth has been spinning since its birth, four and a half billion years ago.

The Earth was made from rubble that was left over when the Sun formed from the collapse of a huge cloud of matter. The rubble that went on to become the Earth circled around the Sun like water does around the plughole when you empty a bathtub, spinning as it went.

The Earth continued to circle the Sun and spin after it was formed and is going to spin like this for a long while to come.

The Earth spins steadily, once every 23 hours and 56 minutes. During this time, the Earth also moves a little further on its orbit around the Sun, which takes one year to complete. This means it needs to turn a bit more - for four minutes - until it faces the Sun again. This means that one day on Earth lasts 24 hours.

Moving in space

The reason the Earth keeps spinning is because there is hardly anything to stop it. If you spin a roundabout in a playground and let go, eventually it will come to a stop. This is because as it spins, the air and the surface of the playground are pushing against it, causing friction and slowing it down.

The Earth is spinning in space, which is pretty much empty. In space, there is not even air to push against and slow down the Earth's spin.

However, there is one thing that slows down the Earth's spin: the Moon.

The motion of the side of the Earth facing the Moon is not balanced perfectly by gravity, and neither is the side of Earth facing away from the Moon. This imbalance creates the ocean tides, which make the oceans bulge out on either side of the Earth.

As the Earth spins, these bulges move across the Earth's surface like a wave, pushing against the Earth's spin. This slows down the Earth's spin. It means that Earth's day lengthens by one second every 50,000 years.

The only thing that could stop the Earth's spin would be if another planet crashed into it. Even if this happened, it is more likely that it would change the way Earth spins, not stop it altogether.
A six-month day

If the Earth stopped spinning, you wouldn't suddenly be launched off into space. Gravity would still keep you firmly on the ground.

There would be lots of changes, though. If Earth were to stop spinning but continue to orbit the Sun, a "day" would last half a year, and so would the night. It could warm up much more during the day and cool down much more during the night. This would affect the climate on Earth.

A large temperature difference between day and night would cause strong winds, which would move warm air towards the cooler, nighttime side of the Earth. Wind would also blow from the warm regions around the equator to the cold polar regions. On a spinning Earth, this does not happen because the wind is deflected sideways.

The eastwards and westwards winds, and the winds towards the poles, would meet. They could possibly create huge swirls of wind the size of entire continents.

The core of the Earth is partly molten iron. The spinning motion of the Earth turns this molten iron into a magnet and gives the Earth a magnetic field.

This protects us against harmful radiation, which comes from particles from the Sun and cosmic rays from outside the solar system. While the magnetic field stops the radiation from reaching us, it hits the Earth's atmosphere, and we see it as the aurora - the northern or southern lights.

Without the magnetic field, this radiation would reach the Earth's surface and make people ill. Some birds use the magnetic field to find their way, so without the Earth spinning, they would get lost.

If the Earth didn't spin, the night sky would always show the same constellations of stars, because you would always be looking out into space in the same direction. This is very different from seeing the stars rise and set during the night, and seeing different constellations at different times of the year.

Jacco van Loon, Astronomer, Keele University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Read the original article. The Conversation

Source: The Conversation | Comments (13)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #4 Posted by C L Palmer 1 year ago
What's amazing is that everything worked out so perfectly to support life on Earth. So many things had to work out very specifically for this to be possible. If any of them, the rotation, distance, elements available, temperature, radiation, etc. were off by very much, we wouldn't be here. The odds are incredible.
Comment icon #5 Posted by RAyMO 1 year ago
A disclaimer - I have zero, zilch, no expertise in this area so I expect to get shot down. But here goes - yes the odds are incredible if you think along the lines that all these elements lined up perfectly to present a planet perfect (almost) for us to inhabit. However, the odds are not really so incredible if you look at it the other way, all these things lined up to create this planet and life then evolved to suit living on it.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Occupational Hubris 1 year ago
And if it happened once, given the immense size and scope of the universe, it's likely to have happened again.
Comment icon #7 Posted by DreadLordAvatar 1 year ago
Reference source:
Comment icon #8 Posted by qxcontinuum 1 year ago
However a powerful asteroid hitting earth on its opposed rotational direction from an angle can and would slow it down
Comment icon #9 Posted by Abramelin 1 year ago
Aftermath When The Earth Stops Spinning(full documentary)HD The spin of the Earth starts slowing down dramatically. It is estimated Earth would stop spinning in as little as 5 years. The first effect is the isolation between the Global Positioning System satellites and ground-based atomic clocks. Then stock markets crash because of uncertainty about humanity's future. As times goes on the oceanic bulge of water at the equator moves northward and southward. The water floods Russia, Canada, and Antarctica. The atmosphere, once shaking solar heat out over the world and shifting air, stops and w... [More]
Comment icon #10 Posted by ExoPaul 1 year ago
And I thought if it stopped spinning time would stop. And if it then started to spin the opposite way time would go backwards? Damn you Superman (1978) for tricking me!
Comment icon #11 Posted by C L Palmer 1 year ago
True, to a degree. We've had scientists try to create the perfect conditions for life to form itself "spontaneously" and the best they could get were some molecules resembling biological precursors and a few orb-like structures. Why did I put the word spontaneously in quotes? If you have a group of people design an environment to be conducive to a specific outcome, the outcome (even if they are successful) is not spontaneous at all. It would be like putting the ingredients for brownies in an oven, shaking them up in the heat, and then claiming that the brownies made themselves. Sure, they were... [More]
Comment icon #12 Posted by RAyMO 1 year ago
The universe is a very very big place, with very many opportunities for conditions to be right or wrong or nearly there, or nearly not there. The point is the planet didn't come into existence to support us, in fact it didn't support us as humans for the lonest part of its existence, we evolved to suit the planet. I have no doubt other planets or moons will have life - in the vastness of the universe.
Comment icon #13 Posted by joc 1 year ago
The Earth cannot stop spinning. Unless the sun goes supernova. I don't even understand the OP question. It isn't and cannot happen.

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