Why if the Earth moves at thousands of kilometers per hour do we not feel like we are traveling at full speed?

Image source, Getty Images

Article information
  • Author, Juan Francisco Alonso
  • Role, BBC News World
  • 1 hour

The Earth is the ship that takes us on an exciting journey through the cosmos. The planet is moving at 107,280 kilometers per hour around the Sun. And it rotates on its axis at about 1,666 kilometers per hour at the equator.

So, why don’t we feel like we’re riding on a sidereal car?

Consistency and inertia

To understand this phenomenon, Chilean astrophysicist Javiera Rey gives us an example.

“Imagine that you are on a plane,” says Rey, co-founder of Star Tres, an initiative that disseminates scientific knowledge in Latin America.

“When you take off you feel like you’re sinking into your seat, and when you land you feel like you’re going forward. This is because inertia makes us tend to stay in our resting position.”

Image source, Getty Images

Caption, When a plane reaches a constant speed, it feels like it is standing still.

When the plane reaches cruising speed you don’t realize that you are moving, “You can stand and walk.”

Thus, when the plane is maintained at a constant speed it feels almost as if it is standing still.

The same thing happens with the Earth, as it travels at a constant speed it seems as if it were not actually crossing the cosmos.

Everything on Earth, including humans, travels at that same constant speed, we rotate with the planetthat’s why we don’t feel the movement.

But there are other key elements.

Image source, Getty Images

Caption, Gravity also helps us not feel the movements that the Earth constantly makes.

The other force that also plays

Gravity also helps explain why we don’t feel the Earth spinning.

“Think that you are in a Formula 1 car and that you move in a straight line at a constant speed,” says Solmar Varela, theoretical physicist and scientific communicator at the Central University of Venezuela.

“At that moment you will not feel that the vehicle is moving, but when you reach a curve you will feel that a force pushes you towards the opposite side of the curve, like he’s trying to push you out of the car”explains Varela.

“The reason you don’t get thrown out of the car is because you’re wearing a seat belt,” he says.

The same thing happens with our planet. When it rotates, a centrifugal force is generated that, in theory, would make us shoot into space.

What happens, however, is that Earth’s gravity is much stronger than that centrifugal force, which is why we stay glued to the planet.

“Gravity acts like a car seat belt.”” indicates Varela.

Image source, Getty Images

Caption, Our inability to sense the movement of the Earth was one of the reasons why for centuries it was believed that the stars revolved around our planet.

Movement is relative

Feeling that the Earth is not moving was one of the reasons why for centuries it was believed that our planet was the center of the universe.

“For a long time it was believed that the Earth was the center of the cosmos, because when people looked at the sky I saw that the stars were the ones that moved“explains Venezuelan astrophysicist Miriam Rengel, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, in Germany.

“But this changed when Nicholas Copernicus and Johannes Kepler developed the heliocentric model and Galileo discovered the four moons of Jupiter and saw that it was the planets that moved around the Sun,” says Rengel.

The defenders of geocentrism maintained that if the planet moved we would feel it and that if we threw an object from a high place, it would not fall on the base, but behind.

But Galileo found a way to refute this.

He did some experiments on a ship that was sailing at a constant speed in a calm sea and poured a drop into a container.

There he noticed that, although the ship moved forward, the drops always fell into the container.

“With this he showed that it all depends on where we are”says Rengel.

Thus, Galileo was the first to formulate the principle of relativity.

Image source, Getty Images

Caption, Galileo Galilei’s studies revealed that the Earth did move and that it rotated around the Sun.

Accustomed and prepared

Another reason why we are not able to perceive the movement of the Earth is that we are simply used to it.

We are accustomed to this movement from birth”explains Marta Ábalos, professor of Earth Physics at the Complutense University of Madrid.

For his part, Rey indicates that the auditory system of living beings adapted to prevent the movement of the planet from causing us dizziness, for example.

Likewise, the fact that the atmosphere moves with the Earth at almost the same speed also plays a role.

“Since the layer of air surrounding the Earth rotates at practically the same speed, we don’t feel any ‘wind’ due to the Earth’s spin”explains Ábalos.

Furthermore, Rey indicates, the movement of the planet does not generate any wind because “space is practically empty.”

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