Deep Thinking

Why don’t we feel Earth’s movement?

Have you ever wondered why, despite hurtling through space at an incredible speed, we don’t feel the Earth’s relentless rotation beneath our feet? The answer lies in the fascinating interplay of physics and our planet’s smooth and relentless spin.

Scientists often draw an analogy to a car cruising smoothly on the highway. When your eyes are closed, and the road noise fades away, you feel stationary. The absence of sudden jolts or changes in speed leaves you blissfully unaware of the motion. This concept aligns with the laws of physics, emphasizing relative motion over absolute motion.

As Greg Gbur, a professor of physics and optical science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, points out, visionaries like Newton and Galileo emphasized the significance of relative motion. “Galileo famously imagined a thought experiment of being in the bowels of a ship. If the ship is sailing on calm water versus the ship being docked at port, you’re not going to notice any difference according to the laws of physics.”

Much like the car window analogy, where the wind hits you only when exposed, Earth’s atmosphere moves with us at the same speed, making it seem stationary relative to our motion. It’s this synchronized movement of everything on Earth that contributes to the illusion of being motionless.

The second key reason behind our lack of awareness of Earth’s rotation is gravity. Gravity’s force that is anchoring us to the planet is vastly stronger than the centripetal acceleration.”It’s the feeling of inertia,” Gbur said. “Your body wants to keep going in a straight line, but if you’re in your car, the car is trying to pull you in a circle.”

Earth’s rotation generates a similar outward pull, but the force of gravity triumphs, keeping everything firmly grounded. Gbur notes that the reduction in gravity’s acceleration due to Earth’s rotation is minuscule compared to the overall force of gravity, making it imperceptible in our daily experiences.

So, as we go about our lives on this spinning orb hurtling through space, the smoothness of Earth’s rotation and the dominance of gravity create a harmonious dance, leaving us blissfully unaware of the tremendous speed at which we traverse the cosmos.

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