Native Village
Youth and Education news
 APRIL 1, 2010 Volume 3

NASA: Quake Shifted Earth's Axis, Shortened Day
David Knowles
Condensed by Native Village

Earth's Tectonic Plates

Chile: NASA scientists say Chile's huge earthquake may have changed how Earth's overall mass is distributed.  Because of this, our days are now a little shorter.

The reason is that sudden changes in the Earth's tectonic plates can alter velocity.

"The length of the day should have gotten shorter by 1.26 microseconds [millionths of a second]," said Richard Gross from NASA. "The axis about which the Earth's mass is balanced should have moved by 2.7 milliarcseconds [about 8 centimeters or 3 inches]."

The speed of earth's rotation also increased after 2004's earthquake near Sumatra, Indonesia. That 9.1 earthquake shortened the length of an Earth day by 6.8 microseconds.

David Kerridge heads the Earth hazards and systems at the British Geological Survey.  He compares the change in rotation speed to a figure skater's arms as she draws them close to her body while spinning. "As she pulls her arms in, she gets faster and faster," he said. "It's the same idea with the Earth going around: If you change the distribution of mass, the rotation rate changes."

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