Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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 | Photo Reprints
Community News Network
  • sleepchart.jpg America’s sleep-deprived cities

    Americans might run on sleep, but those living in the country's largest cities don't appear to run on much.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Who should pay for your kids ACT?

    Thirteen states paid for 11th-grade students in all public high schools to take the ACT college admission test this year, with several more planning to join them in 2015.

    August 20, 2014

  • Pets.jpg Why do people look like their pets?

    As much as we might quibble over the virtues and vices of Canis domesticus, however, and over whether human nature is any better or worse than dog nature, even dog fanciers don't usually want to look like a dog.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ice bucket challenge trending up

    Internet trends are a dime a dozen these days. Everything from Tebowing to planking to the cinnamon challenge can cause a wave of social media activity that can last for weeks before fizzling out.

    August 19, 2014

  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

  • Can 6 seconds launch a career? A generation of Vine stars sure hopes so.

    A year ago, Shawn Mendes filmed himself singing a tentative acoustic cover of the Justin Bieber song "As Long as You Love Me" and put the results on Vine. He wasn't expecting much response. "I didn't really want anything to happen; I just kind of wanted to see what people would think," says Mendes, 16. "I posted that first Vine and woke up the next morning with 10,000 followers. That was pretty cool."

    August 14, 2014

  • Freshman.jpg 8 crucial tips for college freshmen

    With school starting back up around the country, no one has a bigger deer-in-the-headlights look than college freshmen.

    August 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • A night in Ferguson

    For the past week in Ferguson, reporters have been using the McDonald's a few blocks from the scene of Michael Brown's shooting as a staging area. Demonstrations have blown up each night nearby.

    August 14, 2014

Latest news
Featured Ads
Only on our website
AP Video
US Mission to Rescue Hostages in Syria Failed Manfred, Torre and MLB Take Ice Bucket Challenge Bank of America Reaches Record $17B Settlement Holder Reassures Ferguson Community With Visit GlobalPost CEO Remembers Foley As a Brave Man Seth Meyers Rolls Out Emmy Red Carpet Obama: World Is Appalled by Murder of Journalist Israel, Militants Trade Fire After Talks Fail Pres. George W. Bush Takes Ice Bucket Challenge Pierce Brosnan's Call to Join the Expendables Changes Coming to No-Fly List Raw: IDF Footage Said to Show Airstrikes Police: Ferguson More Peaceful Raw: Aftermath of Airstrike in Gaza Raw: Thousands March on Pakistani Parliament Raw: World's Oldest Man Lives in Japan Fire Crews Tame Yosemite Fire Raw: Police Weapon Drawn Near Protesters, Media Raw: Explosions in Gaza As Airstrikes Resume Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape
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.
Obituaries
Poll
Kelly Lafferty's video on Tom Miller