CHILE – An 8.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Chile this past weekend. It also may have rocked the Earth’s axis!
The earthquake that hit Chile may have also changed the entire Earth’s rotation and shortened the length of days on our planet, a NASA scientist said Monday. The seventh strongest earthquake in recorded history which hit Chile on Saturday may have shortened the length of an Earth day by 1.26 milliseconds. That is according to research scientist Richard Gross at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.
A large quake shifts enough rock to redistribute the mass of the planet, which can speed its rotation. The change is permanent, but won’t be noticed in day-to-day life. Gross and his staff also calculated that the quake moved Earth’s figure axis by about eight centimeters.
The figure axis is the axis about which Earth’s mass is balanced and is different from Earth’s north-south axis, which the Earth rotates around once a day at about 1,600 kilometers. Since the Chilean quake was further away from the equator, it was more effective in affecting the figure axis. Also, the fault responsible for the quake was at a steeper angle, having a greater impact on the figure axis.
“This makes the Chile fault more effective in moving Earth’s mass vertically and hence more effective in shifting Earth’s figure axis,” NASA officials said.
Gross has said that his findings are based on early data available on the Chile earthquake. As more information about its characteristics are revealed, his prediction of its effects will likely change.
Powerful earthquakes have altered Earth’s days and its axis in the past. The 9.1 Sumatran earthquake in 2004, which set off a deadly tsunami, should have shortened the Earth’s days by 6.8 microseconds and shifted its axis by about 2.76 inches.