Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Community News Network

September 24, 2013

With Earth spinning more slowly, time isn't flying as fast as before

Don't forget to set your clocks ahead two thousandths of a second before you go to sleep tonight. Same thing goes for bedtime tomorrow. And every day after that, because that is how much slower the Earth turns on its axis each day now than it did a century ago.

All of those sub-eyeblink slowdowns each century have been adding up, too. For Jurassic-era stegosauruses 200 million years ago, the day was perhaps 23 hours long and each year had about 385 days. Two hundred million years from now, the daily dramas for whatever we evolve into will unfold during 25-hour days and 335-day years.

"We naively think there always has been 24 hours per day," says Thomas O'Brian, chief of the Time and Frequency Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). "But that is not the case."

For all but the past 60 to 70 years, those extra milliseconds adding to each day did not matter one whit. The boss still can't tell if you arrive at work two milliseconds after 9 a.m. And twice a year, those accumulating micromoments essentially vanish when most of us adjust our clocks with the start or end of daylight saving time.

Except for one thing: Those micromoments don't actually vanish, and in an era of intense technology, they now matter a whole lot.

"We have become critically dependent on incredibly precise timekeeping," O'Brian says. Technologies such as smartphones, GPS devices and the power grid rely on thousands of separated elements — such as satellites, cell towers, generating stations, computers, electrical switches and countless computers — that cannot get more than a millionth of a second out of sync with one another before bad stuff happens.

Consider GPS signals between satellites and receivers on the ground. Those are radio signals that move at the speed of light, which means they travel about one foot every billionth of a second (which is a nanosecond). So if the clocks in GPS satellites and your GPS receiver drift just one millionth of a second — a thousand nanoseconds — out of sync with each other, the system will not pinpoint your location more precisely than within about two-fifths of a mile. If the synchronization drifts off by one thousandth of a second, the system couldn't tell you for sure if you were in Washington or Boston.

Text Only
Community News Network
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
AP Video
Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground
Poll

With military action and tensions escalating between Russia and Ukraine, as well as Israel and Palestine, are you worried that the U.S. and other nations may get drawn into these conflicts?

Yes, it is a great concern of mine
I’m a little worried, but not too much
No, I’m not worried at all
     View Results