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If the Earth Stood Still
July 7, 2010 9:06 AM   Subscribe

What would happen if the earth stopped spinning? ArcGIS was used to perform complex raster analysis and volumetric computations and generate maps that visualize these results.
posted by gman (51 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
If the earth stood still, the oceans would gradually migrate toward the poles and cause land in the equatorial region to emerge. This would eventually result in a huge equatorial megacontinent and two large polar oceans.
So the question must be asked... How long can Canadians tread water? :)
posted by zarq at 9:09 AM on July 7, 2010


Everybody would fall eastward at 1000 mph?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:11 AM on July 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


Cool! I'll be a short drive to the ocean, then.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:16 AM on July 7, 2010


And people think nerds who build mech costumes out of cardboard boxes have too much time on their hands.
posted by digsrus at 9:24 AM on July 7, 2010


Wouldn't the earth become more spherical also? So that equatorial megacontinent wouldn't last permanently.
posted by empath at 9:29 AM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This raises further questions namely: would the earth be uninhabitable due to climatic changes? and: how big would the equatorial desert be?
posted by Severian at 9:29 AM on July 7, 2010


Why does the earth spin? Is it possible for the earth to not spin? What other planets spin or do not spin?
posted by jefficator at 9:30 AM on July 7, 2010


I haven't read the links, but I'm pretty sure the answer is, "We would all die horribly."
posted by Mister_A at 9:32 AM on July 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Pepsi Blue Marble
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:33 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


In this scenario, the Gulf of Mexico will become an enclosed body of water. Perhaps BP should divert some or all of its time and effort into slowing down the rotation of the Earth.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:37 AM on July 7, 2010


Excellent, I've been building an array of stationary fission-fragment rockets along the eastern seaboard. The equatorial supercontinent will soon be colonized by the dozens of hovercrafts I've already positioned at strategic points around the globe, after which you will recognize me as your new leader. Isn't science fascinating?

Signed,
Lex Luthor
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:37 AM on July 7, 2010


If you read to the end of the article, they bring up an interesting fact—the Earth's rotation is decreasing, albeit imperceptibly so at the human scale.
posted by polymodus at 9:37 AM on July 7, 2010


Why does the earth spin? Is it possible for the earth to not spin? What other planets spin or do not spin?

Most of earth's spin is due to a collision with a mars sized object that created the moon.
posted by empath at 9:40 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I plan to still be around in 4 billion years, so I'll actually get a chance to see this. Sucks to you guys.
posted by tuck_nroll at 9:40 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


If anyone's interested in how much energy it would take to stop the rotation of the Earth (because, say you have a bunch of Saturn V rockets and millions of years), check this out.
posted by hanoixan at 9:47 AM on July 7, 2010


Why oh why could this not have been a SLYT? WEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
posted by Debaser626 at 9:47 AM on July 7, 2010


What other planets spin or do not spin?

I don't know of any planets that don't spin at all, but due to tidal synchronization Mercury rotates 3 times for every 2 orbits around the Sun (this is the same mechanism that causes the same side of the Moon to point to the Earth. Venus also rotates very slowly; its year is 225 Earth days, but its day is 243 Earth days.
posted by TedW at 9:49 AM on July 7, 2010


Why does the earth spin? Is it possible for the earth to not spin? What other planets spin or do not spin?

The moon has a tidal lock with the earth, and I suspect if you visit one of those recently discovered Jupiter-sized planets orbiting close to their star you'll find quite some of them are tidal locked as well.
posted by DreamerFi at 9:56 AM on July 7, 2010


You'd make the best of what's still around ellipsoidal
posted by hal9k at 9:57 AM on July 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


As a child, I had a book that claimed if the Earth stopped spinning everyone would fly off because gravity would stop working. This was a (nominally) non-fiction book and was attempting to explain why a space station could have artificial gravity.

Set my science education back years, that did.
posted by DU at 10:02 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Conservation of angular momentum. If you punch some randomly defined chunk of interstellar gas out of a galaxy and let it coalesce, chances are that it will be rotating in some fashion relative to the centroid, though lightly. You don't even need to isolate the gas. A simple shockwave caused by a local supernova would create regions of higher density, enough to disrupt the equilibrium and begin the collapse.

Just as a figure skater, pulling his arms inward, begins to rotate more rapidly, so too would the Sun and planets also rotate more rapidly as they go from diffuse gases and the occasional chunk from previous solar systems — we might even be a third generation solar system, but it is most likely second — by the time those slowly rotating clouds become dense wads they'll spin appreciably. Everything will continue rotating in more or less one plane, with oddballs like Pluto getting captured at some point. Collisions occur, but even then, angular momentum tends to stick around, so planets rotate in the same direction as the sun, with Venus and Uranus as the exceptions, though Uranus is wildly tilted and Venus is simply slow.

The GIS model wildly neglects the most likely enormous tectonic upheavals created and a pretty much "what will happen to the magnetic field?" bingo of all kinds of consequences, not to mention the effects of a couple of oceans sloshing in new and exciting places.
posted by adipocere at 10:04 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't the earth become more spherical also? So that equatorial megacontinent wouldn't last permanently.

I think the idea is that the water will migrate to the gravitational equilibrium, where the system would be "stable" (ignoring things like massive plate tectonics changes). In this new stable position the water is in just the right amount and thickness over the poles to maintain the shape as it is.
posted by 6550 at 10:15 AM on July 7, 2010


I would like to slow Earth's spin so that a year is exactly 256 days. Then we could set up the following "metric time units":

1 year = 256 days
1 month = 32 days (Jan, Mar, Apr, May, June, July, Sept, Oct)
1 day = 32 hours
1 hour = 64 minutes
1 minute = 64 seconds
1 second = 0.940489769 old seconds (pretty close)

Any drawbacks? Days are significantly longer (even longer than "natural" circadian rhythm). But months, hours, minutes and seconds are fairly close to old values. Changing the length of a year (i.e. Earth orbit adjustment) is considered infeasible.

However, the ease of time calculations would make this a huge win.
posted by kurumi at 10:17 AM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Why does the earth spin? Is it possible for the earth to not spin? What other planets spin or do not spin?"

Earth spins because it was formed from a cloud of gas and dust that was rotating around the sun. When the cloud coalesced to form the planets, we inherited all that angular momentum and just kept on going. (In addition, a giant Mars size object may have smacked into the earth about four and half billion years ago, giving us even more kinetic energy.) Our spin is slowing down very gradually because of tidal friction from the Moon. So yes, it's possible for the Earth to not spin. We're constantly giving the Moon our angular momentum, so Earth's rotation is slowing down and the Moon's orbital speed around us is speeding up. Someday billions of years in the future the Earth will stop spinning (we'll still orbit the sun, though), and the Moon will be so far away and moving so fast it might leave us for good.

I think all the planets in the Solar System spin at one rate or another, but there's lots of variety in the space zoo. For instance, most moons (including our own) rotate at a rate equal to to the time it takes them to orbit around their primary, so they keep the same face pointed toward their respective planets. Then there's Mercury, which has a day twice as long as its year. And Venus, which spins "backwards" compared to most other planets, and Uranus, which has an axis of rotation that's inclined at more than ninety degrees to the ecliptic... It's crazy out there.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:20 AM on July 7, 2010


Why does the earth spin? Is it possible for the earth to not spin? What other planets spin or do not spin?
It spins, I guess, because of momentum left over from formation, and also there's probably the issue of gravity being different the closer you get to the sun. But actually the moon and the tides are acting as something of a break. You'll notice that one side of the moon is always facing earth, eventually the earth will always have one side facing the moon, so the day would actually be a month long, except the moon will be farther away and rotating more slowly, so months will be a lot longer.

(So hmm, this model doesn't actually take that into account. Which would be kind of difficult because the final location of the moon would be kind of random. Maybe it would be far enough away not to have much of an effect)
posted by delmoi at 10:22 AM on July 7, 2010


Oh, and if this actually happened somehow, the result would not be pretty. Lex Luthor would inherit a global supercontinent mostly covered by arid salt plains with no topsoil, and like the article implies, a majority of the world's fresh water would disappear. The rain would fall and new rivers and lakes would eventually emerge, but it might take awhile for the taste of salt to go away. Meanwhile he'd have to plant some kind of vegetation on all that rocky, sandy ground or it'll turn to desert fairly quickly.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:35 AM on July 7, 2010


"Great American Lakes"?

Otherwise, very interesting.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 10:50 AM on July 7, 2010


We're constantly giving the Moon our angular momentum, so Earth's rotation is slowing down and the Moon's orbital speed around us is speeding up. Someday billions of years in the future the Earth will stop spinning (we'll still orbit the sun, though), and the Moon will be so far away and moving so fast it might leave us for good.

I'm pretty sure that once the Moon's orbital period (lunar month) matches the Earth's rotational period (day), the transfer of angular momentum ceases. Right now the Moon's essentially dragging on the Earth, while from the other perspective, the Earth is pulling the Moon along. If the Moon ever did manage to orbit faster than our rotational period, the Earth would drag the Moon to slow, while the Moon would be pulling the Earth faster.

The ultimate equilibrium point between the Moon and the Earth is the two bodies spinning around one another (relative to the Sun), tidally locked. If the increase in angular momentum causes the Moon to be flung off into deep space, it doesn't mean the Earth will have lost all of its angular momentum relative to the Sun.
posted by explosion at 10:53 AM on July 7, 2010


That's a good point.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:57 AM on July 7, 2010


(Sorry, hit return too quickly.) That's a good point. So how long would an Earth day be then? Maybe somewhere past forty of our current days?
posted by Kevin Street at 11:02 AM on July 7, 2010


Lex Luthor would inherit a global supercontinent mostly covered by arid salt plains with no topsoil, and like the article implies, a majority of the world's fresh water would disappear. The rain would fall and new rivers and lakes would eventually emerge, but it might take awhile for the taste of salt to go away. Meanwhile he'd have to plant some kind of vegetation on all that rocky, sandy ground or it'll turn to desert fairly quickly.

I'm not sure this analysis is correct. Salt plains are formed when shallow saltwater basins are evaporated, leaving only their salt. While this certainly would happen in some isolated shallows of former ocean, I'd imagine a fair bit of new land would drain cleanly, leaving a bit of salty earth, but not salt-encrusted rocks. The sea floors are not uniformly rocky and sandy, but often covered in vegetation, silty substances, and decayed organic debris from sea life.

Vegetation hardy enough to survive the salt content of the soil would find plenty of nutrients within that soil, and the rains would filter through to make it more habitable soon enough. Plant mangroves and other saltwater plants, and you've got decent soil enough retention.

The real worry is the radiation from the Sun that's now coming full-blast due to the lack of Earth's magnetosphere.
posted by explosion at 11:07 AM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


No day/night cycle.
Messed up magnetic field
Super hot on the day side
Super cold on the night side
etc.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:16 AM on July 7, 2010


As a child, I had a book that claimed if the Earth stopped spinning everyone would fly off because gravity would stop working. This was a (nominally) non-fiction book and was attempting to explain why a space station could have artificial gravity.

Set my science education back years, that did.


Oh, crap. I guess this means I need to rethink the idea that all science can be explained with Bread lyrics.
posted by Balonious Assault at 11:17 AM on July 7, 2010


Not only Jessamyn would be wet. All of our mods, for better or other, would be under the northern ocean.
posted by Danf at 11:18 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"No day/night cycle.
Messed up magnetic field
Super hot on the day side
Super cold on the night side
etc.
"

There should be a narrow habitable zone between the day and night sides of the globe. If Luthor had any leftover rockets, maybe he could tip Earth's rotational axis so we're at ninety degrees to the ecliptic, which would put the new equatorial supercontinent right in that zone. Since this is Lex we're talking about, he'd probably put the northern polar sea on the nightside, so Superman's submerged Fortress of Solitude is always in darkness.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:35 AM on July 7, 2010


What would happen if the earth stopped spinning?

Then, at last, I would be able to Melt With You.
posted by Ratio at 11:47 AM on July 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


Rockets, Kevin Street?

No, my minions have secretly constructed two gigantic sea walls around the poles, girdling the Antarctic and the Arctic. As I speak we are pumping the waters of the world's oceans inside. Like a Bolshoi ballerina raising her arms to pirouette, the planet will rotate faster and faster.

And unless the world's governments pay me ONE BILLION DOLLARS, the conserved angular momentum of the Earth will cause the planet to spin ever faster still... until all human life is spun right off this miserable space rock!

Muahahahahahaha!!!!!
posted by 7-7 at 12:21 PM on July 7, 2010


Super hot on the day side
Super cold on the night side


I assume it would be above boiling point for water on one side, and below freezing point on the other, which makes that original post a bit inaccurate.
posted by smackfu at 1:07 PM on July 7, 2010


Cool! I'll be a short drive to the ocean, then.

For real, Milwaukee would be beach-front to the great Northern ocean.

I'd have to get a boat.
posted by quin at 1:23 PM on July 7, 2010


I'm not sure, smackfu. If you're talking about the current Earth brought to a halt, both of the polar oceans would straddle the day and night sides, which might have some sort of moderating effect on the climate.

Or maybe you'd get some kind of endless heat engine action going, with boiling water and air streaming away from the dayside and cooling on the nightside. Then the nightside glaciers would advance into the dayside, melt, and start the process again. The topography of Earth would probably mess this up quite a bit, with glaciers getting hung up on mountains and such.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:40 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


More interesting question - what would happen if the earth stopped spinning Right This Second? (Hint.) I know what I'd be doing then.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 2:09 PM on July 7, 2010


"Super hot on the day side
Super cold on the night side"


So it would basically be a McDLT.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 2:50 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


They're actually talking about the earth rotating one day a year. What will actually happen is that the earth will become tidally locked to the sun, so it will always be day on one side and night on the other.
posted by Eideteker at 3:07 PM on July 7, 2010


How long will it take before the earth becomes tide locked with the sun? The sun should go nova before then, right?
posted by delmoi at 5:30 PM on July 7, 2010


I don't know, but here's the formula on Wikipedia. Presumably it would take a very long time.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:49 PM on July 7, 2010


The sun is never going to go nova. It will eventually become a red giant. I don't think the Earth could become tidally locked to the Sun unless you got rid of the moon first, but no, we're not going to get close before the sun eats the Earth.

The scenario as I read it was that the Earth is not rotating at all. Because it continues to revolve around the sun, the sun makes one complete journey around the Earth per year. Thus, zero sidereal days per year = one solar day per year.
posted by Humanzee at 5:49 PM on July 7, 2010


How the hell did they manage to run this without Arc crashing?
posted by stratastar at 6:02 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The study ignores land tides. The Earth is not solid, its crust is a relatively thin layer floating on molten rock so the same forces that smooth out the ocean will also smooth out the continental geoid. There would be some movement of the oceans to the poles but not nearly as much as the model predicts. Also lots of earthquakes and volcanoes; moving the crust around bothers it.
posted by localroger at 7:13 PM on July 7, 2010


This all actually reminds me of the sci-fi novel Day by Night by Tanith Lee. The synopsis on the Lee bibliography site, Daughter of the Night, reads:

The planet did not rotate. On one side eternal day, the sun shining down hotly from the center of the heavens. On the opposite side eternal night, the stars glowing cold in the black and airless sky.

Yet the planet had been colonized. In ages past civilization had dug into the rock of the darkside and had thrived. Aristocrats vied with aristocrats, and the poor, as ever, struggled to keep home and body together against the ever-encroaching cold surface.

To keep the lower classes happy, Vitra, the storyteller, spun romantic sagas on the popular network. She imagined a strange world on the sunside, inhabited by men and women enmeshed in crime and love,schemes and intrigues.

Vitra believed she was making this up. But was she? Was there really another civilization on the bright side and could it be that what she related was not fiction - but events which would inevitably send both worlds out of synch to mutual disaster?


I've had trouble getting through the novel, because Vitra is a really unpleasant person, and most of the book is in her head. But maybe I'll give it another try someday, since the world-building is really interesting. (The cover art by Don Maitz is pretty cool as well.)
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 10:44 PM on July 7, 2010


I don't know, but here's the formula on Wikipedia.
Hmmm, plugging into the "simplified formula," one finds a time of four million years for the moon to lock to the earth --- that is, the moon was unlocked for about 0.1% of its history. The same way, I get about 1.1 billion years for the earth to lock to the moon. That assumes that the earth initially rotated once per twelve hours, and so could plausibly be correct if the moon were formed 0.5 billion years ago, during the Cambrian period. Ah, Wikipedia.

I read somewhere more reputable that the earth won't lock to the moon before the sun becomes a red giant and swallows us both, in four or five billion years, but now I'm curious, dammit.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:18 AM on July 8, 2010


If Earth stopped spinning but the atmosphere did not then pretty much anything between 80°N and 80°S would be destroyed by high-speed winds. At the equator wind speed would be over 1000mph.
posted by alby at 7:19 AM on July 8, 2010


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