As the world is changing: Life can the speed of a planet spinning

The length of Earth’s day is slowing to a glacial pace of 1.8 milliseconds every 100 years. This image shows the Earth and the moon as seen by NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite is 1 million miles away.


The presence of life can affect how fast a planet spins, release of gases, such as oxygen can crank up how quickly the world turns, a new study found.

The earth currently, it takes about 24 hours to his day — that is, a rotation of the earth axis. However, the Earth once spun much faster, maybe with only 2 to 3 hours per day. The gravity pull of the sun and the moon helped slow the Earth spinning over billions of years at the current speed, an effect known as tidal braking. Earth’s spin continues to slow, with the planet of the day, an increase of about 1.8 milliseconds per century.

Previous research has shown that a variety of different factors, it can also speed up and slow down how fast the Earth whirls. For example, earlier work found that an increase of the sea level from the melting of glaciers can shift the earth’s axis, increasing the speed at which the planet spins.

The atmosphere of the earth can also affect the length of the day. “It’s amazing, but the atmosphere of the Earth is about 50 trillion tons in weight, and so more than long enough timescales — hundreds, thousands, even millions of years — all of that mass, and its drag over the surface of the planet, can have an effect,” said study author Caleb Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University in New York.

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“Imagine, for example, if you magically spin-up of the entire atmosphere, so there were hurricane-force winds everywhere for centuries, all blowing in the same direction,” said Scharf “It would gradually, by means of drag and friction, have an effect on the rotating solid sphere of the planet.”

Of course, the actual effects of the atmosphere on planets “much, much less dramatic, but again, over geological time scales, they can and they can withstand the impact of things, such as the lunar and solar gravitational tides,” Scharf said. [Earth Quiz! Do You Know Our Planet?]

As the world turns

The amount of the warming and cooling of the atmosphere experiences can also affect the length of the planet of the day.

“If a star heats a planet such as the Earth, the atmosphere responds by changing the pressure — warm air expands, cool contracts, so in a nutshell, you end up moving the mass in the atmosphere around on a daily basis, and on a very large scale,” Scharf said. “That means that the mass in the atmosphere is not evenly spread across the planet, and that provides a handle, if you will, just like a large key, for the gravity of the star or moons to pull on the atmosphere.”

The pull of the stars and moons on the atmospheres of the planets is usually a small effect. However, sometimes the speed at which a star heats the atmosphere can “resonate” or reinforce the speed at which the atmosphere radiates, just as an opera singer can hit the right chord to create a champagne glass to resonate and shatter, Scharf said. “If that happens, will the mass of the atmosphere bunches a lot more, and the key for the force of gravity gets a lot bigger,” he said. [10 Exoplanets That Could Host Alien Life]

For the Earth, “we think this happened when the day length was approximately 21 hours,” Scharf said. “The key effect, or torque, could have stalled Earth’s rotation from slowing down of the moon pulling, perhaps for hundreds of millions of years.”

Scharf noted that life can affect atmospheric chemistry through the emission of gases, such as oxygen. These gases can in turn affect how the spheres of warm and cool, and Scharf calculated that this can have an impact on a planet where the rate of the spin.

“The possibility that the biology, or a biosphere, it is conceivable influence on the rotation of a planet by a modification of the atmospheric composition — that is crazy! But it seems that it is not impossible,” Scharf said.

Life finds a way?

Life can affect the speed of the planets rotation by means of different mechanisms, Scharf said. For example, ultraviolet light can generate ozone out of oxygen gas. Ozone is very good at absorbing sunlight and heating the atmosphere,” Scharf said. “Imagine a planet where oxygen-producing life has begun, and it is still spinning fast. As ozone forms, it might be the ‘tune’ of the atmosphere, so that the resonance begins early, and that will act against the normal delay of a planet to run.”

Scharf admitted that there is a large degree of uncertainty about how big a light effect might have on the planetary rotation. “What I’ve done is simply lay out a plausible” what – if ” scenario, with a number of well-trained estimates for the numbers,” he said.

“Almost every discovery in exoplanet science over the last few decades has challenged or the expansion of our view of planets,” said Brian Jackson, a planetary scientist at Boise State University, who did not take part in this research. Scharf’s proposal “introduces a new and exciting idea — that by the change of the atmosphere, the biology itself can affect a planet’s rotation,” Jackson said. “Although there is a large number of uncertainties, the hypothesis is very interesting and worth exploring.”

Should in the future be focused on the use of 3D-computer models to simulate planetary climates and see if the life can these suspected effects, Scharf said. Then, researchers can try to look at the rotation rates of the real planets and see if any of these match those of the simulated inhabited worlds.

However, the measurements of extrasolar planet rotation rates is a big challenge, Scharf said. If there are persistent features on planets such as the large cloud full of storms, or ice fields, these possible variations in the light reflected on these worlds, “and these variations give us clues to the rotation rates,” he said. Although these differences are probably hard to detect, “we have surprised ourselves before to come up with clever new techniques to study extrasolar planets,” Scharf said.

Scharf submitted his findings online Nov. 27 to the journal Astrobiology.

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