We know that the rotation of the Earth is gradually slowing down. But what would happen if someone (maybe God, the devil or aliens) suddenly and completely stopped our planet from rotating on its axis of spin?
If Earth Stops Rotating
If Earth stopped spinning all at once, it would be enormously catastrophic for much of the planet’s surface. Though we don’t feel it, we’re all moving along with the planet as it rotates; at the equator, this works out to around 1,000 miles per hour. Stop the planet suddenly, and everything sitting on top of it would go flying eastward. Imagine people, houses, trees, boulders and more being launched sideways at hundreds of miles an hour. In the aftermath, high speed winds, still rotating nearly as fast as the planet, would scour the surface clean.
If the slowdown happened more gradually, the effects would still be dramatic, but would unfold over a longer period of time. The first thing we might notice is that the Sun no longer travels across the sky over the course of a day. The apparent motion of the Sun comes from Earth’s rotation, so if the planet were stationary, it would cause a single day to last half a year long (though we could look forward to some very long-lasting sunsets).
Without the 24-hour days we’re used to, biological circadian rhythms would be thrown entirely out of whack. The rhythmic cellular processes that tell our bodies when to sleep and when to wake depend in part on regular changes in sunlight to function. Many creatures on Earth, from bees to trees, rely on circadian rhythms to carry out their lives. Changing these cycles could upend normal behavior patterns.
Atmospheric patterns on Earth are also tied to the planet’s rotation. If the planet stopped spinning, it would greatly change the way air currents move (once the 1,000 mph winds had died down). The wind patterns we see today play a significant role in driving rainfall and temperatures around the globe. Any changes to air currents could result in deserts blooming where forests currently stand, for example, or frozen tundra becoming habitable. We’re already seeing something similar, albeit on a much smaller scale, as climate change alters global weather patterns. The results could be catastrophic for organisms that depend on specific environments.
An Earth with no spin would also mean the end of hurricanes. The massive rotating storms are created by Coriolis forces that derive from the planet’s rotation. Winds pulled into the low pressure area of a growing storm are spun counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere, resulting in the spiraling lines and central eye that define a hurricane. This process is one reason the storms can grow so powerful — so cutting them out might be one of the rare benefits of halting the planet’s spin.
But a motionless planet would also likely mean the end of our magnetic field. Though scientists are still unclear on the exact mechanisms, it’s thought that the magnetic field is created by the movements of Earth’s liquid metal core. Scientists call this a dynamo, and the end result is a web of invisible magnetic field lines arcing around the planet. The effects of losing that field would be far worse than just no longer being able to navigate by compass. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from cosmic rays and electromagnetic storms from the Sun, among other things. It’s definitely something we’d want to hang on to.
Can It Happen
The good thing is that the Earth will never stop rotating. Earth rotates in the purest, most perfect vacuum in the whole universe—empty space. Space is so empty, so devoid of anything to slow the Earth down, that it just spins and spins, practically without friction and will never stop spinning!