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What If the Earth Rotated 10x Faster?

VO: Eric Cohen WRITTEN BY: Mark Sammut
We rarely consider how quickly the Earth is rotating as it orbits the sun. But we'd soon notice if it started spinning more quickly! But what would actually happen? Would we all be flung off our planet, catapulted out into space? Would the oceans rise up and flood all our major cities? Or would life just carry on as usual?

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What If the Earth Rotated 10x Faster?

The Earth is never stationary. Thanks to the much more potent force of gravity, we humans don’t feel our planet's movements, but that hardly means that they’re not worth noting. Imagine there’s a line cutting through the middle of the globe, heading from the North to the South Pole; this is the Earth's ‘axis of rotation’, and the rest of the world revolves around it. Without this action, one half of the planet would constantly face the sunlight, while the other side would have no choice but to embrace the darkness.

The prospect of a solar day being anything other than 24 hours sounds pretty alien to us, but researchers believe things haveslowed down considerably since the time of the dinosaurs. Even further back, around 4 billion years ago, it’s believed a typical day lasted no more two or three hours. The changes are actually all linked to the moon, and small shifts in its gravitational pull as it inches further away from us. But, what if instead of decreasing, the Earth’s rotational speed increased?

As is the case with any sphere, the speed of rotation is far higher at the center and gets progressively slower as you move further away. In the Earth’s case, the equator rotates at approximately 1,040 mph, while the North and South Poles are relatively static. But, if we multiply the top speed by ten, the Earth now spins at 10,400 mph.

With such a dramatic increase, what are the odds that everyone and everything would simply fly off into space? The short answer is, ‘they wouldn’t’ – and it all comes down to gravity. In order to escape the Earth's pull, a rocket must reach an escape velocity of over 25,000 mph. This means that the planet's new spin still falls considerably short of the speed required to convert everyone into unwitting astronauts. Our feet would still be on the ground, but perhaps planted a little less firmly.

Even now, thanks to gravity, centrifugal force and the fun fact that Earth isn’t a perfect sphere,a person’s weight is marginally lower at the equator than at any other point. But, if we upped the planet’s spin by ten, the gravity would seem weaker still, meaning everyone could look forward to dropping a couple of pounds. This development would likely be nowhere near enough to create a feeling of weightlessness, though. We’d probably be able to jump a little higher and throw a little further, but otherwise it’s as you were.

That said, if the accelerated speed lasted for thousands of years, Earth would gradually flatten, and the equatorial bulge would be far more pronounced – thanks again to its imperfect shape. And if the equator did grow in size, then the entire region would end up underwater, as the oceans are funnelled towards it. In contrast, the Arctic sea could become little more than a glorified pond. In this new climate, the north and south poles might emerge as prime real estate and, arguably, the safest places to live.

And there’s another reason why the oceans could drastically change, when we again consider the moon. As mentioned earlier, for billions of years, the moon's pull away from the Earth has actually been slowing our planet down. However, if Earth regained the initiative by speeding itself up, then it could effectively reel the satellite back in. Not only would this make the moon appear much larger in the night sky, but it’d also alter all established tidal systems, reshaping coastlines all over the world.

Aside from these physical changes, if the Earth’s rotation rate increased, our current understanding of time would be shattered. At ten-times the speed, Earth would only need 2.4 hours to complete a full turn, making days and nights absurdly brief and, to a certain extent, nearly pointless. Assuming the orbital speed around the Sun remains fixed, the planet would continue to require the same number of seconds to complete a cycle; however, months and years would last for 300 and 3,650 2.4-hour-days respectively. If such a drastic shift were to happen abruptly rather than progressively, our minds and bodies would take one hell of a beating, experiencing a sort of superpowered form of jet lag.

Okay, so besides transforming the entire planet and inconceivably altering how we experience it, what else would happen? For one thing, extreme weather patterns – and especially hurricanes – would be even more nightmarish than they already are. The phenomenon known as the Coriolis effect is responsible for shaping and directing tropical storms. An accelerated spin wouldn’t necessarily change the formation process, but the surge and power within destructive weather systems would intensify as a result. Meaning even more damage.

Enhanced earthquakes and volcanic eruptions could also be a major problem. At ten times rotation speed, the Earth's exterior would come under enormous pressure, causing tectonic plates to shift quicker and more vigorously than before, producing unprecedented natural disasters. Even today, a significant enough Earthquake can have an impact on the planet's overall mass and how it spins, but erratic rotations would be the norm in this superspeed, alternate reality.

Is it all doom, gloom and gargantuan destruction, though? Could there be any potential benefits to a speed increase? Well, in theory, our winters and summers should be warmer and cooler respectively. Given the newly accelerated day/night cycle, the sun would come and go at the blink of an eye, providing less time for it to heat up the crust – and meaning less time to feel the chill without it. Alas, milder seasons mean precious little when faced with towering storms and seismic shifts to beat anything Hollywood could dream up. And that’s before we’ve even considered the massive upheaval in farming and agriculture. Whole categories of fresh produce would disappear, simply incapable of growing within Earth’s new schedule.

We might not be instantaneously flung from the planet itself, but could humans really persevere in such a climate? If the acceleration happened overnight, the impact would be beyond catastrophic, and survival would seemingly be near-impossible. Almost any surface-dwelling species would face a major threat of extinction, and those which prefer to burrow underground would likely also struggle. However, ifthis hypothetical though fundamental shake-up occurred over the course of thousands of years, society might be able to adapt, perhaps by building and living beneath the Earth’s surface – at least initially.

Finally, what are the odds of something like this actually happening? Thankfully, they’re pretty much zero. Right now, the moon is drifting further away, and the Earth's rotational speed is slowing down. In other words, the exact opposite is more likely to unfold!

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