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Online Extras: News to Note

September 24, 2013

With Earth spinning more slowly, time isn't flying as fast as before

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But there are many other planetary processes that either bog down or rev up the Earth's spin. Any large-scale interaction between parts of the Earth, such as ocean winds or movements of the planet's molten iron core against the solid mineral mantle, subtly speeds up or slows down the Earth's rotation. Any process that redistributes lots of mass upward or downward will slow or speed the rotation, much as a spinning ice skater slows or quickens her rotation by drawing in or extending her arms. Evaporation, precipitation, melting, changing wind patterns, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are among the processes that can do this.

"In recent decades, the Earth's rotation has been speeding up," O'Brian points out. "This is almost certainly a temporary effect, based on weather, climate changes, changes in the crust or flow of magma."

For geophysicist Richard Gross of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., even the tiniest changes in Earth's rotation are more than merely interesting. "To navigate a spacecraft through space and get it to Mars, you need to precisely know how Earth is oriented with respect to Mars," says Gross, whose works contributes to JPL's interplanetary navigation. He noted that even microsecond changes in Earth's rotation produce enough of a shift in the Earth-Mars orientation to throw the navigational precision off by a mile or more. And that could mean the difference between putting a Martian lander down successfully on a predetermined flat surface or sending it tumbling into a ravine. To help Gross get better at mastering these subtleties, he and a colleague calculated a few years ago that the Sumatran earthquake of Dec. 26, 2004, repositioned enough of the Earth's mass to snip 6.8 microseconds from the length of the day.

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New England News
Obituaries
  • Alan J. Walker, 68

    Kingston, N.H. — Mr. Alan James Walker, 68, passed away peacefully at his home on July 8, 2014, after a long, brave battle with cancer.

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    14 hours
  • James Reese

    Raymond, NH — James Edwin Reese, 74, passed away on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, surrounded by his family and friends at his home in Raymond, N.H. He was the son of John and Ruth Reese, born on Oct. 29, 1939 in Edensburg, Pa. James graduated from Central Cambria High School in Pennsylvania before proudly serving in the U.S. Army as a food inspector. His military service was followed by 31 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a meat inspector. Mr. Reese was an avid outdoorsman and spent much of his time fishing, camping and hiking in the White Mountains. He became involved in the Boy Scouts and enjoyed passing on his vast knowledge of the wilderness to others. Throughout his retirement years he enjoyed woodworking, raising rabbits and working in his garden.

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  • Velma J. Reid

    South Hampton, NH — Velma J. Reid, 80, died peacefully on July 17, 2014 at Exeter Hospital, surrounded by family. She was born in Haverhill, Mass. on June 8, 1934, the daughter of the late George C.W. and Alta I. (Kimball) Haynes. A graduate of Haverhill High School, Velma worked at Western Electric until she had children. For years, she was a devoted “stay-at-home” mom who raised her three children in a loving, nurturing environment. She later worked various manufacturing jobs until her retirement. After retiring, she volunteered her time at various organizations and was very involved at the East Kingston Community United Methodist Church as a member of the women’s guild, assisting with the holiday fair, and helping out wherever she could. She had a passion for animals, and would donate money, food, and blankets to the NH SPCA. She loved to sew and made a personalized quilt for every member of her family. She was also a member of the “Ugly Quilts” group, which made blankets and sleeping bags for the homeless using recycled fabric. She is survived by her husband, Clyde Reid of South Hampton, N.H.; daughter, Pam Eaton of Danville, N.H.; son and daughter-in-law, Douglas and Kim Reid of Raymond, N.H.; daughter, Shirley Reid of South Hampton, N.H.; two sisters, Gwen Stuart of Haverhill, and Norma Taplin of Dracut; four grandchildren, Cheryl and Marc Welch, and Kristen and Joshua Reid, and several nieces and nephews.

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  • Carleen A. Knowlton, 80

    Danville, NH — Carleen A. (Rhoadhouse) Knowlton, 80, of Danville and formerly of Hampstead, died on July 7, 2014, at her home.

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  • Miriam O. (Graham) Graham, 84

    Kingston, NH — Miriam O. (Graham) Graham, 84, a resident of Kingston since 2001, and former longtime resident of Grafton, Mass., died peacefully, surrounded by her family, on July 11, 2014, following a long illness.

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