During the time of the dinosaurs, 100 million years ago, days were 23 hours long. Further back, around 530 million years ago, there were just 21 hours in a day. How do we know this? Ground breaking new research has determined how days on Earth have lengthened over time, with changes to our planet’s orbit on its own axis. As this trend continues, predictions are for 25 hour days in the future. This means more time to play at your favourite online casino, finish your work, see friends, or even grab a little bit more sleep!
How Can We Tell Days Are Lengthening?
The new study that has yielded this information was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and authored by distinguished academics Stephen Meyers and Alberto Malinverno. A careful blend of data-gathering processes known as astrochronology is what ultimately made it possible.
Astrochronology combines another sophisticated statistical approach called Bayesian inversion, geological data, astronomical theory and TimeOpt, a tool that Meyers developed in 2015 as a way of dealing with uncertainty over time. By bringing all of this together, the authors were able to analyse the effects that changing climate patterns had had in rocks over hundreds of millennia.
Meyers explained that the new technique allowed billion year old-rocks to be studied in ways comparable to how modern geological processes are explored, and Malinverno added that they would like to expand and look at different geological time intervals in future research.
Other studies are confirming these findings, and using various historical sources to do so. The recording of events such as eclipses on the Babylonian tablets kept in the British Museum, as well as other ancient drawings, texts and stories from Europe and China have been scrutinised. In this way, estimates of days’ lengths in the past have been created. The entire process is fascinating and, thrillingly, everything lines up.
What Could This Mean for Us?
What would you do if you had an extra hour to get everything done? Would we be expected to work more? Would our sleeping habits and productivity change? Very possibly. And what would that do to the economy, and even to the way we interact with each other socially? Will this even happen, or will other events preclude it?
Knowing the definitive answers to these questions is tricky, but it’s certainly interesting to think about. Of course, serious geophysical effects could also be afoot. If we consider how different the Earth’s environment was millions of years ago, it seems clear that an extra hour of sunlight could have a major effect on the weather – which could, in turn, impact everything else.
Not a Fast Process
Don’t get too excited or nervous yet though; the data shows us how slowly these changes occur. The rate of days lengthening has been found to be just under 2 milliseconds every 100 years. That means that having an extra hour to play with will not be a reality for us, or even for our children’s children’s children. The Earthlings who get to see it and deal with its challenges are those who will be living 200 million years from now.
What Can We Do With This Information Now?
Noticeable changes in our physical world as a result of the slowing Earth rotation may not affect any of us directly, but there is still a lot to learn from these findings. The more we know about how our planet and the forces that influences it work, the more successfully we can live in it.
The research process itself holds huge promise. We are gaining further insight into the geological forces that had an impact on the Earth’s surface billions of years ago. And the possibility of uncovering more of human history, as records of the same events are found in different cultures, could hold the key to helping us comprehend more of our own past.
The applications of what we manage to work out are myriad, and like many scientific endeavours there is no way to accurately estimate how far this one will go. Understanding how physical changes affect plants could, for example, have a major influence on how we manage crops. We still don’t know how much we will learn or how we will ultimately benefit from what we find out, but that’s true of all pioneering discoveries. And it’s part of what makes them so exciting!