Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have succeeded in measuring the earth's rotation more exactly than ever before. The ring laser at the Geodetic Observatory Wettzell can now be used to capture data at a quality level unsurpassed anywhere in the world. The measurements will be used in determining the earth's position in space, will benefit climate research and will make climate models more reliable.
Care to take a quick step down to the basement and see how fast the earth has been turning in the last few hours? Now you can at the Geodetic Observatory Wettzell. TUM researchers have improved the ring laser there so that it can provide daily current data, which until now has not been possible at comparable quality levels.
What exactly does the ring laser measure? On its journey through space the earth rotates on its axis at slightly varying speeds. In addition, the axis around which the planet spins is not completely static, it wobbles a bit. This is because our planet is not completely solid, but is made up of various component parts, some solid, some liquid. So the insides of the earth itself are constantly in motion. These shifts in mass accelerate or brake the planet's rotation, differences which can be detected using measurement systems like the TUM ring laser.
"Fluctuations in rotation are not only important for astronomy, we also urgently need them to create accurate climate models and to better understand weather phenomena like El Niño. And the more precise the data, the more accurate the predictions," says Prof. Ulrich Schreiber, who led the project at the Observatory for TUM.