Earth rotation effect on flights

Does the earth orbiting itself have an effect on flights? Does it take different time to travel east to west from the time it takes to travel west to east?

By “orbiting itself” I assume you mean that it’s rotating. And the answer is that no, it has no effect on east-west travel. It’s the same reason you don’t notice the earth’s rotation just walking around on its surface. You’re moving with the ground. Planes are flying through air that is, for the most part, moving with the ground too.

But there is usually a difference in time flying east vs. flying west. But the reason isn’t the earth’s rotation, but upper level winds, like the jet stream. Because weather generally moves west to east across the US, it takes less time to fly from LA to New York than it does to fly from New York to LA. The winds slow down planes heading west, and help them out heading east.

Of course, if you wanted to quibble (and in GQ, who doesn’t?), you could point out that the reason the weather/winds tends to move that way is because of the rotation of the Earth, and therefore by one reading of the OP’s question, the answer would be “yes.”

I thought about that, and almost mentioned it. But it’s a pretty indirect way to say that planes are affected by the rotation of the earth. One step further enables you to say that the earth’s rotation makes life possible and thus enabled the evolution of beings who could make airplanes.

I don’t think that counts.

I’d have given it to you. The jury would also have accepted “if the earth stopped rotating, you’d be flung off into space and wouldn’t be able to travel at all (except away).”

Although, you end up travelling quicker when travelling with the Earth’s rotation rather than against it which is probably the opposite of what the OP was thinking.


Escape velocity is about 10km/s. Rotational velocity at the equator is only about 500m/s. Even if the Earth stopped rotating instantly, why in the hell would you be “flung off?”

I’ve always considered it counter-intuitive that the atmosphere rotates faster than the planet.

Maybe whatever instantly stopped the Earth rotating also turned off gravity? :wink:

Uh… I knew that. :wink:

So, my understanding is:

If the Earth stopped rotating suddenly, we’d all fatally faceplant into the nearest anchored object at 500m/sec. Gravity would keep our remains where they stopped. If it decelerated slowly, we’d be screwed for ecological reasons, but in the very, very short term, we’d be OK, apart from some weird daylight hours.

Is that on the money? A sudden slowdown is “goodnight nurse” and a gradual slowdown might get us a few days of survival, with gravity - if anything - being ever so slightly stronger in its effects?

That’s about the speed of a bullet from a rifle. It would make quite a mess.

What sort of weather patterns would you get on a non-rotating Earth? I’d think there would be a huge temperature differential between the lit and unlit hemispheres.

But it’s amazing how many people do seem to think that the only reason the Earth has gravity is that it’s rotating. Oh and of course, if you rotate it the other way a la Superman, then time goes backwards. :slight_smile:

Well, I don’t think the Earth “orbits itself”. IANA astronomer, but something about this seems wrong.

Still, as a regular transatlantic flier, I’ll say that west-east flights are faster. I’m told that this has to do with jetstreams and general prevailing weather conditions. If this has anything to do with the rotation of the Earth, no-one’s told me.

Prevailing Winds

Don’t assume that all prevailing winds come from the west because the Earth turns from west to east. There are four bands of prevailing winds in the Northern Hemisphere (same in the Southern) and two of those are Westerlies, two are Easterlies. The Earth’s rotation creates the Coriolis Effect: as air moves from North to South it is seems to deflect to the right and we see an Easterly wind like the Trade Winds in the tropics. Similarly, if air moves from South to North, it also seems to deflect to the right, and we see Westerlies.

Those are the lower level prevailing winds. The upper level jetstreams that are the topic of the OP are mainly westerlies.

If it wasn’t for the rotation of the Earth, the winds would be more north/south in keeping with the temperature gradient at the surface.

It was a joke, folks. Apparently not a very good one. I didn’t intend to hijack.

True for those among us foolish enough to be near the equator. As for me, I plan to be at a very high latitude, where the effect is quite minor, and even rather amusing.

Putting the cart before the horse. He didn’t move back in time because the rotation was reversed; the rotation appeared reversed because he was going back in time.

As for the effect of Earth’s rotation on its weather, it’s instructive to look at other planets. You know those latitudinal bands you always see in pictures of Jupiter? Earth has bands like that, as well. The air at the equator is heated, which causes it to rise. This causes air near the equator to move towards the equator at the surface, and away from it at higher altitudes. But when the air at high altitudes moves far enough away, it cools down, and comes back to the surface. That downdraft then causes another band in each hemisphere, where air at the surface moves away from the downdraft, and towards it at high altitude. If I recall correctly, the Earth has a total of three such cells in each hemisphere.

Well, that’s enough to account for the wind blowing north in some bands, and south in others. But what about east and west? Here’s where the Coriolis effect comes in. Whenever something moves a long distance along the surface of the Earth (much longer than the size of your toilet, but marginally significant for long-range artillery), it’ll veer to one side relative to the planet. In the Northern Hemisphere, things are deflected to the right, and in the Southern, to the left. So these winds which are blowing north or south due to the convection cells end up veering east or west. The US and Europe are mostly in the northern temperate cell, where convection drives surface winds from the south to the north, so when Coriolis deflects those surface winds to the right, we get winds from the west to the east.