Thanks to the same force between the Earth and its moon that regulates tides in the ocean, our days are slowly getting longer. According to Space, as a result of this tidal force, the moon is slowly being pulled away from Earth.
Because of a new statistical method called astrochronology, astronomers have now peered into the “Earth’s deep geologic past and reconstructed the planet’s history.” As a result of this new method, they have found out some startling information about the moon.
While it is estimated that the moon is approximately 4.5 billion years old, the new studies suggest that at a point about 1.4 billion years ago, the moon was significantly closer to the Earth. This meant that our planet spun faster. As a result of this, each Earth day lasted about 18 hours rather than the 24 hours we now know, Space reports from a statement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The study’s co-author, Stephen Meyers, a professor of geoscience at UW-Madison, explained it further in the statement.
“As the moon moves away, the Earth is like a spinning figure skater who slows down as they stretch their arms out. One of our ambitions was to use astrochronology to tell time in the most distant past, to develop very ancient geological timescales. We want to be able to study rocks that are billions of years old in a way that is comparable to how we study modern geologic processes.”
Because of this new study, we now know that as the planets rotate, the moon is slowly drifting away from Earth at a rate of 1.5 inches (3.82 centimeters) per year. Which means, in around 200 million years’ time, the Earth will gain an extra hour per day, pushing it up from a 24-hour cycle to a 25-hour cycle.
Previously, when studying the moon, astronomers often came across uncertainties they were unable to compensate for over time. As Space points out, with their previous methods of study, it was estimated that about 1.5 billion years ago the moon was so close to the Earth that our planet would have literally ripped the smaller one apart. However, now with astrochronology, testing was able to be done on two stratigraphic rock layers: a “1.4-billion-year-old Xiamaling Formation from northern China and a 55-million-year-old record from Walvis Ridge, in the southern Atlantic Ocean.” This helped confirm both orbit and distance from the moon throughout history to more accurately predict the moon’s trajectory.
“The geologic record is an astronomical observatory for the early solar system,” Meyers revealed. “We are looking at its pulsing rhythm, preserved in the rock and the history of life.”
So, while it is now estimated Earth will eventually get 25-hour days, for now, everyone can still plan their lives around the regular 24-hour cycle.