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Chile Earthquake Shifts the Earth's Axis, Shortens the Days

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Examiner: NASA scientists have determined that the massive magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck Chile on Saturday has shortened our days and shifted the Earth's axis. Officials said that the effects of the event while not unusual are a testament to the power of the temblor.

earth from space

Richard Gross, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said his team had determined the Chile earthquake shorted the length of an Earth day by 1.26 microseconds. A microsecond is one millionth of a second.

The 2004 earthquake in Sumatra which triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people was a magnitude 9.1 temblor. That event shortened the days by 6.8 microseconds according to the same computer models.

Most interesting is the effect the quakes had on the earth's axis. Saturday's earthquake shifted the earth's axis by 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8 centimeters, or 3 inches). The Sumatran quake shifted the planet's axis by 2.32 milliarcseconds (about 7 centimeters, or 2.76 inches).

The scientists said the 2010 Chile quake had a greater effect on the Earth's axis than the 2004 temblor because it occurred in the planet's mid-latitudes. By contrast, the Sumatran quake was near the equator.

Researchers have said that all earthquakes affect the Earth's axis. Dr. Benjamin Fong Chao, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said "Any worldly event that involves the movement of mass affects the Earth's rotation, from seasonal weather down to driving a car."

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