How the Moon's movements could leave us with a 25-hour day

The days are getting longer – but very, very slowly

As the Earth's rotation gradually winds down, the moon moves further away.

Researchers have found that the effect of the Moon moving away from Earth causes our planet to spin more slowly, lengthening the day. "For example, the identification of Milankovitch cycles in sediments spanning the past million years has revolutionised our understanding of the nature of ice ages, the instability of ice sheets, and how Earth's climate system works". Separate images were combined to generate this view.

Prof Meyers said: "One of our ambitions was to use astrochronology to tell time in the most distant past, to develop very ancient geological time scales". We know the Moon is 4.5 billion years old - but if we extrapolate back the current rate, the Moon would have been so close to Earth 1.5 billion years ago that it would have been ripped apart by the planet's gravitational forces.

Meyers and Malinvern set themselves the task of reconstructing changes in the distance between the Earth and the moon, and variations in Earth's orbit, along with wobbles and tilts known as Milankovitch cycles, further back in time than ever before.

But going back farther in the geologic record, into the billions of years, is more hard, because dating techniques such as radioisotope aren't quite precise enough to identify cycles that far back. It's also complicated by lack of knowledge of the history of the moon, and by what is known as solar system chaos, a theory posed by Parisian astronomer Jacques Laskar in 1989.

But in the history of our solar system-which stretches back billions of years-a few hundred million isn't all that much.

Small, initial variations in these moving parts can propagate into big changes millions of years later - but trying to find the origins of these significant differences has been impossible until now.

Stephen Meyers, a professor of geoscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-author of the study, explained: "As the Moon moves away, the Earth is like a spinning figure skater who slows down as they stretch their arms out".

This, they said, was the first unambiguous evidence of a chaotic Solar System. So, the farther back in time you try to peek, the less reliable the conclusion is likely to be.

The moon is now moving away from Earth at a rate of 3.82cm a year, which could mean in around 200million years' time, each day will be 25 hours long.

Scientists believe that when Earth and the moon were barely formed some 4.5 billion years ago, days were only five hours long.

They applied it to two rock layers, the 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. However, it will only be observable from one half of the Earth. Next, they want to apply their method to other intervals of geologic time, added study co-author and Lamont Research Professor at Columbia, Alberto Malinverno in the statement.

Meyers and his team used astrochronology, or the statistical method that connects astronomical theories with geological observations, to reconstruct the solar system's ancient history.

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