What Would Happen If the Earth Stopped Rotating


Earth Stopped Rotating
What would happen if the Earth stopped rotating would be that everything (air, water, people, plants) would fly forward.

The rotation of the Earth is a fundamental aspect of our planet’s physics, influencing everything from day and night cycles to weather patterns. But what would happen if the Earth stopped rotating? The quick answer is: nothing good. Let’s explore the dramatic and profound effects on the atmosphere, oceans, land, weather, and the magnetic field in two scenarios: a sudden halt and a gradual stop.

Scenario 1: The Earth Stopped Rotating Suddenly

First, realize this is a completely hypothetical scenario. The Earth is not going to stop spinning or rotating around its axis. It obeys the laws of physics, including Newton’s Laws of Motion. According to the First Law, a body in motion remains in motion unless acted on by an unbalanced force. Encountering a force of that magnitude would require something like an impact with another planet, which would be more of a problem than the Earth losing its rotation. But, if for some unimaginable reason the Earth did stop rotating, here’s what happens:

  • Day and Night: Even if the Earth stops rotating, it still orbits the Sun. But, without rotation, each day lasts half a year and each night lasts half a year.
  • Atmospheric Effects: If the Earth stops spinning suddenly, the atmosphere continues moving at the Earth’s original rotational velocity. This causes catastrophic wind speeds of up to 1670 km/h (approximately the Earth’s rotational speed at the equator). These winds wreak havoc on a global scale, flattening structures, uprooting forests, and scouring landscapes. Gravity still holds the atmosphere and oceans onto the planet, since the particles don’t reach escape velocity.
  • Oceanic Changes: The sudden stop causes massive tsunamis and unprecedented tidal waves. Oceans are no longer restrained by centrifugal force, so they redistribute. The likely outcome is pooling at the poles, leaving vast areas of the equator exposed as new landmasses.
  • Impact on Land: The immediate cessation has a catastrophic impact on land due to the inertia of the Earth’s crust. Massive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions ensue, reshaping the planet’s topography.
  • Weather Alterations: Weather patterns, largely driven by the Coriolis effect due to Earth’s rotation, undergo drastic changes. The absence of this effect leads to the collapse of current weather systems, resulting in unpredictable and extreme weather phenomena.
  • Magnetic Field Repercussions: Earth’s rotation contributes to the dynamo effect that generates the magnetic field. A sudden stop weakens or disrupts this field, leading to increased solar radiation and loss of protection against cosmic rays. The magnetic field doesn’t immediately weaken because convection driven by thermal energy drives the motion of the Earth’s core.

Scenario 2: The Earth Stopped Rotating Gradually

Did you know the Earth rotates more slowly today than it did in the past (and it’s still slowing)? For the most part, this is because the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth. Other factors also influence the period of the Earth’s rotation, including gravitational effects from other planets in the solar system, volcanic eruptions, and glaciation. Don’t worry. The Earth is not going to stop rotating, but if it gradually slowed to a stop, here’s what to expect:

  • Day and Night: Eventually, each day lasts six months and each night lasts six months. This dramatically affects temperatures and weather. The oxygen level of the atmosphere decreases unless plants and other photosynthetic organisms find a way of living half a year in the dark or else moving with the light.
  • Atmospheric Effects: A gradual slowdown gives the atmosphere time to adjust, reducing the catastrophic wind speeds seen in the sudden stop scenario. However, the redistribution of atmospheric mass still significantly alters climate patterns.
  • Oceanic Changes: The oceans gradually move towards the poles, though less dramatically than in a sudden stop. This shift changes sea levels, with some coastal areas becoming submerged and others emerging.
  • Impact on Land: Earthquakes and volcanic activity likely increase due to the changing rotational stresses on the Earth’s crust, but the process is less abrupt compared to a sudden halt.
  • Weather Alterations: The gradual change in rotation slowly alters weather systems. The slow shift in climate zones allows for potential adaptation over time.
  • Magnetic Field Repercussions: A gradual slowdown results in a weaker, but still present, magnetic field. Even if the Earth isn’t spinning, the molten core still experiences movement because of heat transfer. A weaker magnetic field is less effective in shielding Earth from solar and cosmic radiation, potentially leading to long-term implications for life on Earth.

Scenario 3: The Earth Becomes Tidally Locked to the Sun

If the Earth becomes tidally locked to the Sun, one side constantly faces the Sun while the other is in perpetual darkness. This scenario won’t happen because Earth is too far from the Sun. Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, is mostly locked, yet it still experiences a day/night cycle. Its day is about twice as long as its year. If Earth did tidally lock to the Sun, it actually would still rotate, just very slowly.

Here’s what happens:

  • Day and Night Cycle: In a tidally locked Earth, one hemisphere perpetually faces the Sun, resulting in eternal daylight, while the other is in constant darkness. This eliminates the traditional day-night cycle as we know it.
  • Atmospheric Effects: The side facing the Sun experiences extreme heating, while the dark side is incredibly cold. This causes intense atmospheric storms and winds as air moves from the hot side to the cold side.
  • Oceanic Changes: The oceans likely redistribute in response to the extreme temperature differences. One possibility is the formation of a massive ice cap on the dark side, while oceans on the sunlit side experience continuous evaporation, affecting global water circulation.
  • Climate and Weather: The climate is extreme, with the sunlit side experiencing scorching temperatures and the dark side facing freezing conditions. The border region between these two extremes might have milder conditions but with turbulent weather due to the clash of air masses.
  • Impact on Life and Ecosystems: The extreme conditions likely make large portions of the planet inhospitable. The best chance of life is in the twilight zone between the hot and cold hemispheres.
  • Magnetic Field: The magnetic field presumably remains stable if Earth’s internal dynamics aren’t affected by tidal locking. This stability protects the planet from solar radiation, especially on the sunlit side.

What Happens to Life If the Earth Stopped Rotating

Are any of these scenarios survivable?

  1. Sudden Stop: The immediate effects of a sudden stop are catastrophic. Anything not firmly attached to the ground goes flying, while anything in-place experiences crushing deceleration (around 45G). The enormous change in velocity results in unprecedented winds and massive geological upheavals. It breaks buildings, rips the tops off of mountains, and slides soil. Bacteria and viruses might be okay, but humans and most other forms of life can’t survive this scenario.
  2. Gradual Stop: If the rotation stops over a long period, there’s a higher chance that some forms of life adapt. However, the drastic climate changes, disruption in the day-night cycle, and potential weakening of the magnetic field still pose severe challenges. Humans might survive through technological means, like building controlled environments, but the alternation in the global biosphere leads to mass extinctions.
  3. Tidally Locked: Life on a tidally locked world is the realm of science fiction. There are moons that are tidally locked to their planets, but tidal locking to a star poses more challenges. Humans might adapt to survival in the twilight zone.

References

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  • Frautschi, Steven C.; Olenick, Richard P.; Apostol, Tom M.; Goodstein, David L. (2007). The Mechanical Universe: Mechanics and Heat (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-71590-4.
  • Perkins, Sid (2016). “Ancient eclipses show Earth’s rotation is slowing”. Science. doi:10.1126/science.aal0469
  • Williams, George E. (2000). “Geological constraints on the Precambrian history of Earth’s rotation and the Moon’s orbit”. Reviews of Geophysics. 38 (1): 37–59. doi:10.1029/1999RG900016
  • Wu, P.; Peltier, W.R. (1984). “Pleistocene deglaciation and the earth’s rotation: a new analysis”. Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. 76 (3): 753–792. doi:10.1111/j.1365-246X.1984.tb01920.x