What would happen if the Earth stood still for one full minute? — Balasubramaniam, Mumbai, India
Marshall Brain Answers:
Right now the earth is rotating one revolution every 24 hours. That doesn’t seem like much – it is only 0.0007 RPM. But the earth has a huge circumference. If you were to tie a string around the equator, it would be nearly 25,000 miles long. That means that if you could somehow stand stationary above the earth as it rotated underneath you, it would be going by at more than 1,000 miles per hour.
What this means is that everything on the earth is also traveling at 1,000 miles per hour. So if a giant hand were to come down and somehow stop the earth’s rotation for one minute, the effect would be gigantic. Everything on and around the earth would continue along with its 1,000 mile per hour momentum.
One big problem would come from the oceans, which cover 71% of the planet. They would continue forward at 1,000 miles per hour and form the world’s biggest tsunami. In one minute they would move almost 17 miles inland. Water moving at 1,000 miles per hour would have a shocking amount of momentum and would strip the land clean down toward bedrock.
The air would keep moving, so there would also be a 1,000 mile per hour supersonic wind to worry about. Everything not affected by the 1,000 MPH ocean water would be scrubbed clean by the 1,000 MPH wind.
Every building would be pulverized by the shock of going from 1,000 MPH to 0 MPH instantly. The little bits left over would flash into the 1,000 MPH wind. The same kind of thing would happen with all trees and plants and mountains.
Any person would experience the kind of thing a person would experience in a 1,000 MPH car crash. Since a 100 MPH car crash is instantly fatal, a 1,000 MPH event would not be healthy. Imagine a human body as a tumbleweed rolling at 1,000 MPH. Little bits of people would flash into the ocean or wind and mix with the building, plant and mountain debris.
You get the idea. Making the world stand still for a minute would cause a number of problems.
Then there’s what would happen inside the planet. We tend to think of earth as a solid ball, but it is not. It has a molten, liquid core. The mantle is a very thin skin over this liquid core, like this:
What happens to the liquid core when you try to stop the planet? We can get some sense of it by looking at a raw egg. You may have seen this technique for detecting whether an egg is hard boiled or raw – you spin the egg and then try to stop its rotation:
When you stop the raw egg, the liquid interior stays in motion. And it is here that you see how imossible it would be to “stop the earth”. The giant hand, first of all, could not squeeze the earth – the earth would be squishy because it is liquid inside. But even if the hand could stop the mantle, the liquid interior would stay in motion and this 1,000 mile per hour interior would rip the crust apart instantly. The crust would dissappear in a second, and there would be this big, molten, crustless ball in space.
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