Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Science is cool: Chilean quake moves earth's axis by 3 inches

While most of us last weekend were watching the tragic scene unfold in Chile, or waiting to see if a tsunami was charging towards Hawaii, scientists were discovering that the 8.8 quake in Chile last week not only shifted the earth's axis but it also shortened our day. Yes. Seriously.

According to businessweek.com , “The length of the day should have gotten shorter by 1.26 microseconds (millionths of a second)...” and “The axis about which the Earth’s mass is balanced should have moved by 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8 centimeters or 3 inches).” And, if you already didn't know, the massive 9.1 Sumatran quake in 2004 "...shortened the day by 6.8 microseconds and shifted the axis by about 2.3 milliarcseconds..." So I guess this happens all the time.

To most of you this tiny three-inch shift in the earth's axis might not seem like a whole lot, but when you think about it from a scientific point of view I'm sure it really throws off a lot of calculations. I can imagine a bunch of physicists and geologists are now doing long, complicated, equations trying to reset clocks and change known data points.

I find this really really cool - what can I say, I'm a science geek. I grew up with a dad (he reads this and will back me up) who instead of reciting us traditional bedtime stories would show us books on plate tectonics and volcanoes. I was probably the only seven-year-old who understood that Hawaii was drifting northwest and a new island was forming way below the ocean surface. My older sister, no surprise, majored in geology.

A mere 1.26 microseconds probably won't change a thing in your daily lives. So don't worry, you were only 1.26 microseconds late for work or school this morning, no one will notice. And there's no need to reset your watch, well, unless of course you're NASA.

For a cool map of the tsunami waves a Chilean quake sends out check out Astray in a Latin World.


  1. That is amazing, Kate! I had no idea, but of course it makes sense that things like earthquakes have major planetary ramifications. I think it's wonderful that your dad supports (and is probably responsible for) your science geekiness.

  2. Woah! How crazy. Thanks for sharing :-)

  3. No wonder I feel like I am listing slightly to the left.

  4. DJan: my dad loves to support anything science and geeky. never once hesitated to buy me SCUBA gear... that new snowboard I wanted when I was 20....? took more convincing :)

    Green Gal: it is crazy, what's crazier is I never knew about this! I was stunned when I saw it this morning, but like DJan said, makes total sense doesn't it?

    RT: Weird, I kinda feel like I'm listing to the right... :)

    thanks for reading everyone, this post almost crashed my blog site, had no idea how many people in the world were interested in this! I've had more hits in the last 3 hours than I did almost all of last month!

  5. Kate! My fellow science geek! I was reading about the shift this morning in one of my geeky science news feeds. The shift in the figure axis is pretty significant! Moving something the size of the earth even 3 inches takes quite the ummph (technical term)! Good write up on it. I think I'll post your article on my facebook rather than the more technical ones out there - hope your website can handle it! : )

  6. I heard that on the news and thought it was amazing. My first thought was wondering if the movement or tilt has an affect on seasonal changes and weather. Just like a line of dominoes, one thing always affects another. It is a fascinating thing to study.

  7. OMG Kate! Are you talking about science? Of all subjects, why science? Haha when I read about milliarseconds I got lost see I can't even type it correctly?

    Anyway the Chilean earthquake called us for tsunami alerts, most people along the Pacific ocean were asked to move to higher places due to the effect of the earthquake but glad it didn't happen.


  8. Maurie: my Dad is pretty cool, I can attribute all of my science-geek genes to him, for sure!

    Rae: I thought I saw something online about how all the big earthquakes lately have had something to do with knocking things off and causing more bad weather, not sure how much science is behind that but you're encouraging me to do more research into this....very interesting.

    AL: I know, I'm a science geek, sorry, don't worry too much about the details, I'm just glad a tsunami didn't hit you guys! I saw the wave map on the news and was worried about you and some friends on the east coast of Australia! you've had enough flooding in the past year :)

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  11. kate, those last two comments are not safe to leave on your blog for others to access, the links .............. could well be viral and are certainly commercial, I get a lot of these and delete them all.

    Great post, I am going to link it on my Latin America blog, I had planned a Chilean earthquake post for today.

    And I thought the lean to the right was because of last night's beer.... just goes to show.


  12. @ AV: thanks for the advice about deleting the links. I have a Mac and my husband runs Linux so we get a bit lax about viruses as we never get them. But I should be thinking about my readers :) looking forward to your post about the quake and the tsunami! I'll add a link to it at the end of this post when you get it up.

  13. I read your post the other day but was one of the non commenting thousands of hits you had!! Back to comment. My parents were not science geeks but I was. I was the bug and magnifying glass, collect samples of pretty coloured gooky, gobby stuff kinda girl. AND I LOVED all science at school... Loved your post. Reminds me I should get back into it!

  14. this is wild and your dad sounds super cool and you too, of course.

  15. This is very interesting. Just glad there are scientists who pay attention to things like this...glad somebody is keeping track!

  16. That really is amazing.
    And I agree with Bethany's comment about your dad.

  17. Ange: I will try to post more sciency stuff since I seem to have a lot of fellow science geeks following now :) Like you I was the kid knee deep in the pond poking through frog spawn and making volcanoes in the sand box with the garden hose. yay!

    Bethany and matthew: I definitely attribute all of my science-geekiness to my Dad's genes...

    TC: I can imagine there are people keeping track of every little thing out there, kinda boggles your mind huh?


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