What Would Happen if the Earth Stopped Spinning?

What Would Happen if the Earth Stopped Spinning?

Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

It sounds like something from a Science-fiction movie.  Overnight, the Earth stops spinning.  To put it bluntly, the results would be catastrophic.  We'll explore some of those effects.  But what if the Earth slowly stops its rotation and comes to a gradual halt.  The effects would be different, but equally catastrophic for all forms of life including us.


On that happy note, let's consider the possibilities beginning with the Hollywood favourite:  Abrupt Stop.

Image credit: NASA


Abrupt Stop of Earth's Rotation.

Imagine you're in a car traveling at 80 kph and hit a brick wall.  You're in serious trouble as a result.  Your biggest problem is inertia.  While the wall has stopped your car your body is continuing to move at 80 kph.  You can imagine the result.


Now let's scale that up to the Earth coming to an abrupt halt.  It's a good news and bad news scenario.  If you are close to the north or the south pole you may not notice much.  If you're on the Earth's equator where your spinning at about 1,600 kph you're doomed if the Earth comes to an abrupt stop.  If you're traveling on a plane you might be okay and if you're an astronaut in space you'll be just fine.  Of course neither of you will probably ever find a place to land that resembles your designated landing site, but at least you have some time.


What's going to happen with an abrupt stop is that the mass and inertia of buildings, lakes, oceans and mountains are going to react to the sudden stop and rumble, tumble and flood most of the planets surface.  the destruction will be total and most living animals won't survive especially us.  With any luck a few thousand humans will survive the deluge of water and debris.  But now they have a new set of problems.


This new set of problems is what will most likely happen.  And while the abrupt stop may not occur, the slow stop will result in a similar die-off of life on Earth but slowly.  Maybe a generation depending on the slow down and the circumstances.


What could cause a slow down of the Earth's rotation?

It's already happening.  The Moon is gradually slowing the rotation of the Earth.  But other factors can come into play. 

·      If an asteroid were to hit the Moon and shift its orbit we could see a reduction in our rotation.

·      A "Rogue" planet moving through our Solar System could affect our planet's rotation.

·      A black-hole moving past our location could affect every planet and the our sun and cause a reduction on the Earth's spin rate.


5 Things to Worry About if the World Stops Spinning

Science-fiction writers can give us other factors but any decrease in the Earth's rotation will have a profound affect on life on Earth.


1.    If the Earth stopped spinning we would lose the "bulge effect" on our oceans at the equator.  The result is that much of the world's oceans would flood the top and bottom of the planet leaving a band of land around the equator.  This would result in two large Polar-oceans and a new mega-continent around the equator.  Yikes.  Sounds like we're going to have to sell the house, dear.

2.    If the Earth stopped spinning we would have 6 months of sunlight and 6 months of darkness every year.  It's a bit like what you see at the poles.  Imagine that across the planet.  I suspect some Evergreens would survive but most plants would not on land.  That would essentially undercut our food chain globally.

3.    If the Earth stopped spinning animals in the ocean might have a good shot at survival based on their ability to migrate freely towards the "light" zones.  Of course, they are also dependent on plant life through algae to maintain their food-chain so the ability of algae and other aquatic plants to survive the "new Earth" would be an immediate challenge.

4.    If the Earth stopped spinning it might affect our magnetosphere.  Curiously, this may have the most devastating affect on our planet.  While we might be able to survive a day that lasts a year; months of eternal light and darkness and a massive upheaval of the food chain - the magnetosphere protects us from the radiation bombarding our planet from space and specifically, the sun.  Without the magnetosphere our atmosphere can be stripped away much like it was on Mars when its magnetosphere theoretically stopped functioning.  Without our magnetosphere we are toast whether they be long days or nights. 

Earth's Magnetosphere rendition.jpg

Earth’s Magnetosphere. Credit: NASA

5.    If the Earth stops spinning you have to wonder where does the spinning stop and end.  The inner core of the Earth is spinning at a faster rate.  Just because the surface has slowed down doesn't mean the core of the Earth stopped too.  And there's the final conundrum.  Our highly volcanic planet might erupt in ways we never imagined as the tectonic forces above and below enter into a new conflict.


Will the Earth stop spinning.  Yup!  Although physicists predict it might be a billion years from now.  But if an event such as a rogue planet or black hole or freak asteroid striking the Moon shows up, we might find some of these events happening sooner rather than later.  Thankfully, the chances of this happening are extremely unlikely so please sleep well. We hope you enjoyed this fun look at what might happen if the Earth stopped spinning. If you have any other ideas or comments please leave us a comment in the section below.

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