What If The Earth Stopped Spinning?

What If The Earth Stopped Spinning? Would you notice? Absolutely. In fact, depending on where you are located, you could be thrown off your feet and sent flying across the planet at approximately 1,000 miles per hour. If you somehow survived this event, what would happen next would be like walking into a nightmare.

There would be giant storms, humongous waves, and flying debris. The crazy part is the worst is yet to come. We may take all of the things Earth’s rotation does for us for granted. It influences the weather, allows for 24-hour days, and helps moderate the climate so we can survive comfortably on our planet. Earth started spinning around four and half billion years ago, and it hasn’t stopped since.

This is because, in the vacuum of space, there is nothing to create friction that would slow down the Earth. However,  the speed at which our planet spins is decreasing. So, what would happen if Earth suddenly came to a complete stop?

There would be some instantaneous effects followed by a series of catastrophes in the minutes, hours, and days to come. If you were sitting on a beach near the equator when the Earth stopped spinning, you the beach chair, and all the sand around you would continue moving at around 1,000 miles per hour.

What If The Earth Stopped Spinning

If you somehow managed to avoid being hurtled across the planet, you would have to watch out for things such as cars, animals, and anything that wasn’t secured to Earth flying towards you. You and all the other flying debris would not get launched into space because Earth’s gravity would still be pulling you toward its center.

But everything would go careening in an easterly direction across the surface until friction finally slowed it all down. It may seem unbelievable, but if you were at the North or South Pole, you would have no idea that the Earth stopped spinning at first. This is because your angular momentum at these locations is zero.

Think of it like spinning a basketball on your finger. The finger at the “pole” of the basketball doesn’t move as the ball spins. However, if you were to place your finger anywhere else on the surface of the ball, it would move in the direction that the ball was rotating. The same thing would happen to anyone at the poles of the Earth. Let’s say that you and everything else that went flying across the planet now came to a  stop.

There is debris everywhere, you look around, and by some miracle, you’re alive.  Unfortunately, you won’t stay that way for very long because the worst is yet to come. Even if the Earth stopped spinning, the atmosphere would continue to move. This would cause a massive global windstorm. Like everything else that wasn’t bolted down, the winds would blow at 1,000 miles per hour. As you move away from the equator, the wind speed would slow down.

However, you would need to be located pretty far north or south before the winds dipped below non-lethal levels. Most man-made and natural structures would not be able to withstand winds over a few hundred miles per hour. The strongest wind gust ever recorded on our planet was just over 250 miles per hour. And the most powerful hurricane-force winds reach just over 150 miles per hour.

When you consider the destruction that can be done by these storms and multiply it tenfold, you get an idea of how dire the situation has become. The winds would not only be moving incredibly fast across the planet, but they would do something strange over time. Once the winds calmed down, regular weather patterns would change drastically. The spinning of the Earth creates the Coriolis effect, which causes air currents to move across the planet.  

What If The Earth Stopped Spinning

It is the movement of air and the friction that is caused as it passes over the surface of the  Earth that causes certain weather patterns such as hurricanes. Therefore, a non-spinning Earth would not have any more hurricanes, so at least we have that going for us. But there are other phenomena that will make trying to survive on this new motionless world incredibly difficult.

For one thing, the oceans and all of the water on the planet are about to move to a new location. When the Earth stops spinning, the water, like everything else, will keep moving. This will cause enormous tsunamis and gigantic waves to sweep across every continent and briefly turn our planet into a water world.

It would be like a more intense version of the Noah’s Ark story, but even a ship large enough to carry two of every animal on the planet wouldn’t survive the waves, which could reach hundreds of feet high. And if you thought one-hundred-foot tidal waves were bad, that is nothing compared to other natural disasters that would be caused by a sudden stop to Earth’s spin. The tectonic plates sit on top of the Earth’s mantle and slowly move across the viscous molten rock.

This is what causes geologic formations such as mountains and valleys. However,  if the plates keep moving at their previous speeds after the Earth stops spinning, it could cause earthquakes and volcanoes on a scale that has never been seen before.As tectonic plates slam into each other huge tremors will ripple across the landscape tearing apart the Earth’s crust.

Denser oceanic plates will be forced under less dense continental plates causing massive volcanic eruptions that would spew molten lava across the planet and cover the atmosphere in smoke and dust particles. The resulting scars and craters in the Earth’s landscape would be reminiscent of something out of Dante’s Inferno. And yet there is still more devastation to come. We are now hours into the after-effects of an  Earth that suddenly stopped spinning.

The waves have subsided, the winds have calmed, and the  Earth has reached a sort of new equilibrium,  but now the really strange stuff is about to happen. At this point, pretty much every living thing on the planet has been wiped out except for some species that live at the poles,  like penguins and intrepid scientists stationed in the arctic. Unfortunately, at least one of these creatures won’t last for very long. Every weather pattern on Earth will have shifted.

Winds are blowing up from the equator to the poles. This directly impacts rainfall, causing rainforests to go arid and deserts to flood. Surprisingly some of the most hospitable places on Earth after it stops spinning would be in the frozen tundras of Canada and Siberia. Right now, these locations are difficult to live in as the temperatures are brutal and precipitation can be low. However,  with the changing of weather patterns, these areas could begin to thaw and become much more temperate.

That being said, in the coming days, another problem will arise around the world that would render this a moot point. As the Earth spins, it creates centrifugal force, which pulls the water of our oceans toward the equator. Due to this phenomenon, the sea level at the equator is actually about 13 miles higher than the sea level at the poles. When the Earth stops spinning,  the centrifugal force that causes the oceans to bulge at the equator is gone. 

This means that the water of the oceans will begin to move towards the poles. The ocean levels at the equator would drop by about 5 miles as the water rushes to either pole. This would increase the amount of water in the arctic and antarctic, submerging any remaining land under salty water. These new oceans would extend from the poles down to around the longitude of where Spain is located in the Northern Hemisphere and to the tip of Argentina in the Southern  Hemisphere.

But due to the drastic drop in sea level near the equator, there would now be a  giant supercontinent that circled the Earth’s equatorial region separating the two new polar oceans from one another. The new continent would be a barren stretch of land containing very little in the way of plants or animals as it had been underwater for hundreds of millions of years. Life would slowly begin to recolonize this newly formed continent in a normal situation.  

But since most living things were likely wiped out in the initial displacement of air and water,  this process would take much longer.  However, life always seems to find a way, so microbes would probably inhabit the new continent first, followed by pioneering species such as fungi and lichens.

Unfortunately, even the most resilient species would have a  hard time surviving on a non-spinning Earth due to the change in the length of a day. The spinning of the Earth on its axis is what causes day and night. Once the spinning stops, there will still be day and night; it will just take much longer to change between the two.

Just because the Earth stopped spinning doesn’t mean it stops revolving around the sun. The length of a year, or the time it takes the Earth to complete one revolution in its orbit, would remain the same. This means that as the Earth continued to orbit the sun, one day on Earth would take a  year. Wherever you were located on the planet would get six months of light and six months of darkness.

With these extreme circumstances, some really terrible things begin to happen. The most noticeable difference would be the changes in temperature across the planet. Since any given point on the Earth would receive six months of sunlight, it would experience six months of intense heat. The first days of having nonstop sunlight wouldn’t be too bad. It might be hard to fall asleep, but the temperature wouldn’t be that drastically different.

However, as the weeks passed and the area never got a chance to cool down, temperatures would slowly begin to creep up. It is estimated that 6 months of nonstop sunlight would likely cause the temperature on the daytime side of the Earth to reach over 212  degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius. This is hot enough to boil water and melt anything else on the surface of the planet.

What If The Earth Stopped Spinning

The water would evaporate into the air and eventually find its way to cooler regions in the twilight zone and night side of the planet. The daytime side of Earth would become a  scorched landscape in a matter of months. On the opposite side of the planet, where it is perpetually nighttime for six months, the temperatures would plummet. If you found yourself stuck here, you would notice something strange during your 6 months in darkness.

The night sky would never change. We are used to seeing the stars, Moon, and other celestial bodies move across the night sky, but this is an illusion. Although everything in the sky is moving, the only reason that constellations seem to rise and set is because of the spin of the Earth. If the Earth stopped turning, this would no longer be the case, and you would see the same stars in relatively the same position all the time.

That being said, there would be 7 celestial objects that still moved across the sky. These would be the other planets in the solar system. However, due to the long orbits of the outer planets like Neptune and Uranus, there is a chance that they would not cross your portion of the night sky during your lifetime. 

You would likely be able to see Mercury, Venus, and Mars, though, which might break up some of the monotony of a year-long day. Surprisingly there are a few ways that life might get around the temperature problems with an Earth day lasting one full year. On both the day and night sides of the planet, microbes would likely be able to survive since they are pretty hardy. 

However, most plants and animals would die off in massive numbers if any survived the initial catastrophes when Earth stopped spinning. Although, when you think about it, there are already certain organisms that survive in locations where six months of the year are in darkness, and the other six months the sun never sets. At the South Pole, penguins live in these conditions every year.

Granted, if the Earth wasn’t spinning, their habitat would likely be underwater, but theoretically,  penguins might be the best-suited animals to survive on a non-spinning Earth. There may also be creatures deep in the ocean near hydrothermal vents called extremophiles that could survive on Earth if they stopped spinning.

The creatures in these ecosystems don’t require sunlight as they create their own food not using photosynthesis but a process called chemosynthesis. They do this by taking the heat and minerals being pumped out of the Earth and into the oceans and repurposing them into food. 

In order for these extremophiles to continue living, the Earth’s core and tectonic plates need to remain active. If these processes stopped along with the spinning of the Earth, then everything that relied on the organisms around hydrothermal vents would die off too.

For any humans that find themselves still living on the Earth after it stops spinning,  there might be a way to survive the year-long day. However, we would have to go back to our roots and become nomadic once again. During the time it would take the Earth to complete its orbit around the sun, there would always be a section of the planet that would be in a twilight zone.

The sun would either be just about to rise or just about to set in these regions. This would make their temperatures relatively moderate. In this scenario, anyone who survived the stopping of Earth may be able to make their way onto the equatorial supercontinent and use it as a base of operations. If you could somehow band together with any other humans who survived and start a nomadic tribe, you could follow the twilight zone around the Earth every year.

Obviously, you would need to figure out ways to grow plants in low light for food and find drinkable water. But if those obstacles could be overcome, you could travel your way around the planet each year to keep out of the high and low-temperature zones. We know there are many more obstacles that would need to be addressed in order for your new twilight community to succeed. 

But it is kind of interesting that going back to our nomadic lifestyle might be the thing that could save the human species if the world stopped spinning. The number of problems that need to be overcome seems almost insurmountable when you look at it practically. All life on Earth today evolved to live on a planet with a day lasting roughly around 24 hours. The length of a day is so important that it has become ingrained in our biology.

If the Earth stopped spinning,  it would throw the circadian rhythms of living things into chaos. This process is fine-tuned to allow our bodies to go through physical, mental, and chemical cycles every 24 hours. If your circadian rhythm gets thrown off, it can lead to depression, irregular hormone release, and even a change in body temperature.

And this is not just unique to humans. Many living things on the planet rely on circadian rhythms to time biological functions. Life evolved over hundreds of millions of years to survive during a 24-hour day.  It would not be able to adjust to a year-long day very easily. All of the problems so far would occur if the surface of the Earth stopped spinning.

What If The Earth Stopped Spinning

However,  if the entirety of the Earth, including the core, were to become stationary, what would happen? Things would actually become a whole lot worse. The core of the Earth is likely made of molten iron and nickel. This is incredibly important because as these two elements swirl around the core as a result of the intense heat and pressure at the center of our planet, they create a magnetic field around the Earth.

This magnetic field protects our atmosphere from being obliterated by harmful radiation and solar storms. If the core of the Earth stopped spinning along with the rest of the planet, our magnetic field would shut down. This likely wouldn’t cause any immediate catastrophes, but after a while,  the planet would slowly begin to bake from the extra radiation bombarding it from the sun.  

Living things would get radiation burns, and the DNA in their cells would begin to mutate. However, this would only be a problem until the sun belched out a solar flare or coronal mass ejection in our direction. Without our magnetic field, these cosmic events would completely annihilate anything on the surface of the planet.

This brings us to the big question. Is it possible for the world to just stop spinning? The answer is yes. There are two different ways the Earth could stop spinning. The first would be if the motion stopped all at once and the second would be if it gradually slowed down over time. We are going to look at both scenarios. An abrupt stop would be much more devastating than a gradual one,  but a gradual stop is more likely as our planet’s spin is already slowing down.

If the Earth was hit by another planet-size object, it could theoretically stop the rotation of our planet. If this happened, then all of the things discussed in this video could be disregarded. An impact of that magnitude would vaporize anything on the surface of both planets, which makes 1,000-mile-per-hour winds and year-long days pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Surprisingly, a planet in our solar system went through just such an impact.

Uranus does not spin the same way as the rest of the planets in our solar system. It spins at a 90-degree angle from the plane of its orbit. All other planets spin close to 180 degrees along their orbit. Many scientists believe the reason that Uranus’ spin is different from the rest of the planets is that an Earth-sized object hit it in the past. So, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Earth could be hit by something that would disrupt its spin.

There is another planet that has an even more peculiar spin than Uranus, and it happens to be our neighbor. Venus is a lot like Earth. It is about the same size, and it sits just on the inner part of our solar system’s habitable zone. However, due to its runaway greenhouse effect, Venus is more like hell than Earth. But what makes this planet peculiar is that it rotates in the opposite direction compared to all the other planets in the solar system.

On Venus, the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. Scientists think this may have been caused by an impact. Recent evidence suggests that Venus used to rotate in the same direction as all the other planets, but the sun’s gravitational pull slowed down its spin and eventually caused it to stop. 

That same gravitational pull continued to tug on Venus resulting in it spinning in the opposite direction. This would never happen to the Earth as we are too far away from the sun, but perhaps something else could cause this to happen to our planet. There may be some unknown force that we have yet to discover which could cause the Earth to stop spinning.

Perhaps if our solar system passed by a black hole at just the right angle, the gravitational pull from the black hole could cause our planet to stop spinning. However, a more likely scenario would be that the black hole would consume our solar system or throw it into chaos. Right now, the Earth is spinning slower than it was a year ago.

In fact, the Earth’s spin slows down around 1.4 milliseconds every 100  years. This is a very small number and will have no impact on your life, but for people in the future, this could be a huge problem. The reason that the Earth’s spin is slowing down is not a mystery. There isn’t some unknown planet or force tugging on the Earth stalling its rotation. Instead, the reason why it slows down ever so slightly each year is because of the Moon’s gravity.  

You can see the pull of the Moon at work twice a day if you are by a large body of water. The Moon tugs at the water, which creates the tides. This is a natural process and one that many scientists believe is necessary for many aquatic creatures to survive. However, with all of that pulling comes the side effect of losing momentum.

Every time the Moon pulls on Earth, it slows its spin ever so slightly. In fact, the Earth had the same effect on the Moon for a long time until it became tidally locked, which was caused by Earth’s gravity stopping the spin of the Moon completely. This is why we only see one side of the Moon. Since the Moon is smaller than our planet, it has less gravity and therefore didn’t tidally lock the Earth.

What If The Earth Stopped Spinning
Planet landscape artwork made with Photoshop cs4Earth.

This is a good thing; otherwise, our day would last a year, and the world would look very different than it does today. But the fact remains, the Moon is slowing the spin of Earth ever so slightly all the time. To put this in perspective, let’s go back in time. Four hundred million years ago, the length of an Earth day was shorter than it is today because the planet was spinning faster. It may sound crazy, but there were actually 400 days in a year.

This means every day was 21.9 hours long. If you thought there wasn’t enough time in a day to get everything done now, you would have been really pressed for time 400 million years ago. So, what is going to happen in the future to the length of a day for  Earth? We know that one day now is about 23 hours and 56 minutes, not 24 hours.

This is why we add an extra day every four years to make sure that our calendar stays in sync. At the rate at which the Earth is slowing down due to the pull of the moon, in 140 million years, a day will be 25 hours long. Obviously, you and I won’t be around to witness a 25-hour day, but given enough time, the Earth could stop spinning altogether.

At that point, one day would be equivalent to one full rotation of the Earth around the sun, or 8,760 hours long. But even future generations don’t need to worry about this happening. The Earth will be destroyed long before it stops spinning. We are not talking about doomsday or humans blowing up the planet. Instead, we are referring to the time it will take for our sun to turn into a red giant and consume the Earth.

This will happen in about 5 billion years when the sun fuses all of the hydrogen atoms at its core and needs to start pulling in hydrogen from its outer layers. At this point, the sun will begin to expand. There is a chance that the sun doesn’t swell to the size of Earth’s orbit. But our planet would be so close to the red giant that the radiation and heat would be too much for our magnetic shield, and the world would burn. At this point, the Earth would be tidally locked with the sun and would no longer be spinning.

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