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4 - Variable Earth Rotation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 October 2018

Dennis D. McCarthy
Affiliation:
United States Naval Observatory
P. Kenneth Seidelmann
Affiliation:
University of Virginia
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Summary

The reality of the rotation of the Earth was not generally accepted until the 15th century. The connection between the secular acceleration of the Moon’s motion and the secular retardation of the Earth’s rotation rate was considered in the mid-19th century, but the values did not agree. Newcomb investigated the possibility of variation in the Earth’s rotation rate, but was unable to prove it. R. T. A. Innes, H. Spencer Jones, and W. de Sitter provided evidence of the variations in the 1920s based on observations of the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars. Various explanations for the variations were proposed, but now low-frequency and higher-frequency variations in the Earth’s rotation are recognized. Because the Earth's rotation was known to be variable, a uniform time was needed for ephemerides. This led to the introduction of Ephemeris Time and the use of more precise quartz crystal and atomic clocks. Also, observations of the Earth’s rotation led to the field of Earth orientation sciences, combining astronomy, geodesy, and geophysics.
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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