Earth, a veteran planet known more for its cunning than the speed and explosiveness of its youth, made a retro appearance earlier this summer, completing its fastest rotation in history. All the haters and doubters who counted Earth are sobbing right now, absolutely sobbing.
On June 29, the Earth made a complete rotation in 1.59 milliseconds less than the league average of 24 hours, a breathtaking athletic feat watched by an estimated 7.97 billion viewers. This sets a record for the fastest rotation of the Earth since they started tracking the statistics in 1955 with the advent of the first practical atomic clock. But as we all know, athletes get stronger and faster; Back then Earth was competing with a bunch of plumbers and postmen.
The world record was confirmed by International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Servicethe governing body for the passage of time itself and first reported by Timeanddate, the fan blog for weather news, weather results and weather trading rumors. As Timeanddate points out, June’s record performance did not come in a vacuum. Well, it came in the vacuum of space, but you know what I mean; Earth is enjoying a resurgence at the end of its career. Although the Earth has generally rotated more slowly since its first year (about three milliseconds per day per century; therefore the length of a day at the end of the Cretaceous would have been about 23 hours and 30 minutes), in the last few seasons the Earth has been rotating increasingly more often faster.
The reasons for Earth’s return as Player of the Year are unclear. Some credit a new training regimen; other new off-season diet. Still others speculate a change in play-calling philosophy by Earth’s coach, the Sun, more suited to Earth’s abilities. Earth is also haunted by whispers of the use of PGH (planetary growth hormone), although it is possible that these rumors were started by its closest rivals, Mars and Venus. “It sure is weird,” said Professor Matt King from the University of Tasmania. “Obviously something has changed.”
Scientists who are actually submetric geeks have a number of theories, one of the most popular being the glacial isostatic correction. In this scenario, climate change melts the ice caps and thus reduces the weight of the Earth’s poles, allowing the Earth, which is wider than it is tall, to decompress into a shape somewhat closer to a sphere. Like a figure skater pulling back his arms, this would allow the Earth to spin faster.
Another theory involves Chandler Wobble which is the periodic wandering of the center of rotation. In the past few years—probably driven by changes in ocean circulation—the fluctuation has been at an all-time low; Earth looks more like a football thrown into a tight spiral than a Peyton Manningesque wounded duck.
“Given that changes in both of these things can be related to the movement of a mass on the Earth’s surface, it’s probably not a bad guess that these things are related in some way.” King said. “I don’t know if we’re that much further along in understanding what’s going on, but I would venture to say that there’s probably something going on in the climate system or in the oceans.”
Whatever the reason or reasons, Earth’s recent performance has been so impressive that they are considering changing the rules of the sport. A few more years of hours below 24 hours and we’ll need the first-ever “negative leap second”—the leap of one second in International Atomic Time, the official global time, to bring it back into line with Earth’s rotation. Sure, Barry Bonds hit a bunch of dingers and set a bunch of records. But did he force us to literally jump forward in time? Earth is the greatest that ever succeeded.