The Moon Is Making the Days on Earth Longer

iStock
iStock

We've all complained that there aren't enough hours in the day, and apparently the Moon has always been listening. New research shows that days on Earth are getting longer, and this phenomenon can be attributed to the Moon's slow drift away from Earth, Space.com reports.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison determined that 1.4 billion years ago, when the Moon was closer to us, a day on Earth lasted about 18 hours. Each year, the Moon moves about 1.5 inches away from our planet, mainly due to Earth's tidal forces. As the Moon grows more distant, Earth rotates more slowly around its axis "like a spinning figure skater who slows down as they stretch their arms out," Stephen Meyers, the study's co-author, explained in a statement.

However, we won't notice the difference while we're alive—and neither will our great-great-grandchildren, for that matter. A few years ago, astronomer Britt Scharringhausen estimated that in 100 years, the day will be two milliseconds longer.

The scientists at UW reached their findings, which were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by drawing on astronomy and geology. Using a statistical method called astrochronology, they studied two rock formations in China and the Atlantic Ocean that date back 1.4 billion and 55 million years, respectively, to better understand the ancient history of the Earth.

"The geologic record is an astronomical observatory for the early solar system," Meyers explained. "We are looking at its pulsing rhythm, preserved in the rock and the history of life."

Variations in Earth's movements—known as Milankovitch cycles—are determined not just by the Moon, but also by the other planets. This ultimately determines the amount of sunlight that reaches Earth and affects our planet's climate.

[h/t space.com]

Thursday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Guitar Kits, Memory-Foam Pillows, and Smartwatches

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 3. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

3D Map Shows the Milky Way Galaxy in Unprecedented Detail

ESA
ESA

It's our galactic home, but the Milky Way contains many mysteries scientists are working to unravel. Now, as The Guardian reports, astronomers at the European Space Agency have built a 3D map that provides the most detailed look at our galaxy yet.

The data displayed in the graphic below has been seven years in the making. In 2013, the ESA launched its Gaia observatory from Kourou in French Guiana. Since then, two high-powered telescopes aboard the spacecraft have been sweeping the skies, recording the locations, movements, and changes in brightness of more than a billion stars in the Milky Way and beyond.

Using Gaia's findings, astronomers put together a 3D map that allows scientists to study the galaxy in greater depth than ever before. The data has made it possible to measure the acceleration of the solar system. By comparing the solar system's movement to that of more remote celestial objects, researchers have determined that the solar system is slowly falling toward the center of the galaxy at an acceleration of 7 millimeters per second per year, The Guardian reports. Additionally, the map reveals how matter is distributed throughout the Milky Way. With this information, scientists should be able to get an estimate of the galaxy's mass.

Gaia's observations may also hold clues to the Milky Way's past and future. The data holds remnants of the 10-billion-year-old disc that made up the edge of the star system. By comparing it to the shape of the Milky Way today, astronomers have determined that the disc will continue to expand as new stars are created.

The Gaia observatory was launched with the mission of gathering an updated star census. The previous census was conducted in 1957, and Gaia's new data reaches four times farther and accounts for 100 times more stars.

[h/t The Guardian]