Earth is spinning faster than it has for 50 years (and we might have to ‘subtract’ a second)

Rob Waugh
·2-min read
Background of the planet earth viwed from satellite , this image is generated with 3D software   and Elements of this image are provided by NASA
Earth is spinning very quickly. (Getty)

Earth is spinning unusually quickly – and last year saw the shortest day since people started counting.

In fact, 2020 saw the 28 shortest days since 1960, beating the previous shortest day in 2005, according to

The rapid spinning of our planet could mean that scientists add a ‘negative leap second’ to the network of atomic clocks which count time on Earth, according to the Telegraph.

It would mean that one year would be a second shorter than others.

In 2016, scientists added a ‘leap second’ to keep our planet in sync – but this would be the first “negative leap second”.

Read more” ‘Leap second’ to be added to official time

Speaking to the Telegraph, Peter Whibberley of the National Physical Laboratory said, “The Earth is spinning faster now than at any time in the last 50 years.

“It’s quite possible that a negative leap second will be needed if the Earth’s rotation rate increases further, but it’s too early to say if this is likely to happen.

“There are also international discussions taking place about the future of leap seconds, and it’s also possible that the need for a negative leap second might push the decision towards ending leap seconds for good.”

International timekeepers occasionally add a ‘leap second’ to years to compensate for the fact that Earth’s rotation is slowing down.

The ‘leap seconds’ are added to keep Earth in time with ‘solar time’ – average length of a day, based on how long it takes Earth to rotate.

We don’t notice, of course; the atomic clocks which control the ones on your phone and your PC will adjust themselves, and everything will go on as normal.

Around the world, atomic clocks either ‘switch off’ for a second, or go to 23.59.60 before moving on to 00.00.00.

Graham Jones, of, said: “Before this year began, the shortest day since 1973 was July 5, 2005, when the Earth's rotation took 1.0516 milliseconds less than 86,400 seconds.

“But in the middle of 2020, the Earth beat that record no less than 28 times. The shortest day of all came on July 19, when the Earth completed its rotation in 1.4602 milliseconds less than 86,400 seconds.”

Watch: It turns out the universe might have its own cosmic clock