Magnetic Moment


I have a legendarily poor sense of direction. Get lost in my own room if there weren’t signs posted. Hope I got stuff right.


All at once, a lot of people fell over. Having fallen, they slid a little, or rather, it felt like the ground slid under them.

There were a lot of yells of earthquake, because it seemed slightly more like that than anything else other than being attacked by a treadmill. Knick-knacks slid sedately off shelves, but after a minute of nothing coming apart and not much rumbling, citizens stepped out of the doorways they’d been braced in, and very carefully, looked outside, where they saw everyone else doing the same thing. Then they mostly got on twitter and tweeted about it.

It quickly went around that they were all being pushed gently west. The general explanation was that this was either really cool or really annoying, depending on your perspective on life.

Logs, people, cats and rocks were pushed. Trees, statues, ground squirrels, pillars, and anything else embedded in the earth were not pushed. A vine went viral in which a man nailed his shoe to the floor and ceased to be pushed. A million people tried it and found it worked, but, depending on how substantial the shoes were, two nails might be needed.

Because NASA was looking up, they were the first ones to know what was happening. (The first one to guess was a closet designer staggering through the frozen food aisle at a Mumbai Walmart, but guessing isn’t knowing.) What NASA knew was that the earth spins at a little over 1000 miles an hour at the equator, and progressively less as you make your way to the poles, but now it wasn’t spinning so fast. Houston was losing 3 miles per hour of velocity every second, or about the walking speed of an average grandfather. It was hard to get a more accurate measure. The (de)acceleration was dissatisfyingly jerky.

In Singapore, the velocity lost every second was more like the walking pace of a fit grandpa who still plays tennis over the weekend.

You might think the 24 hour news cycle was born for just such a moment, but they weren’t nearly fast enough. Wolf Blitzer was reduced to reading Neil Degrasse Tyson’s twitter feed aloud on air.

He read that if the earth was indeed losing about 3 miles an hour every second, that was 180 miles an hour every minute. Thus it would take a little under 6 minutes, from start to finish, for the earth to stop spinning entirely, and the event had already been going 90 seconds before Mr. Tyson started tweeting.

If the earth were tidal locked, it would complete exactly one rotation for each orbit, such that the same side would constantly face the center. That side would bake like the top layer of your Aunt’s sausage strata, and the other side would freeze like a streaker in Antarctica. Endless day on one side of the planet, endless night on the other, and endless twilight at the borders.

Or, if the planet stopped spinning entirely, there would still be days, but they’d be the same length as a year. It would be a bit like life at the poles, where there’s day for half the year and night for the other half.

Either way, it would probably spell the end for human civilization. Given that the only people who’d thought seriously about such climate models were astrophysicists, Mr. Tyson found his expertise more relevant to current events than ever before.

A few scientists hurriedly set up video conferences with the news, mumbling things about magnetic fields and new physics and being very confused right now, while the ‘Scientists’ brought in to argue with them shouted things about Quantum Fields and new physics and not being confused at all.

It was not the rating bonanza the cable news shows hoped it would be, as nearly everyone who watched the news did so so that they could livetweet it. Millions of people took videos of the sun which showed it wasn’t moving through the sky as quickly as normal.

The sun was setting over the American west coast. People stood (balancing carefully) on the hoods of their cars, or on balconies, to watch.

As the earth turned slower and slower, the sun set more and more slowly. There was a lot of talk among west coasters that it wouldn’t be so bad if the earth tidal locked with the sun right at the horizon. That would be very pretty, and, in the estimation of many of the gawkers, neither too hot nor too cold. California, however, as one of the few habitable places left, might become even more crowded than it already way. But this was not to be.

The sun dipped below the waves, and night fell over America.

Except Hawaii and Alaska of course.

The sun dipped below the waves, and night fell over the continental United States.

All at once, a lot of people fell over, which was especially tough for those of them standing on cars. Having fallen, they didn’t slide much. They’d done this once already, except now, instead of feeling pushed west, they felt pushed east by the earth, which seemed to be moving at about the speed of your average Grandpa, or, in Singapore, at the speed of a fit grandpa who still plays tennis over the weekend.

A closet designer refreshing twitter in Mumbai was the first to guess what was happening, but half the world was just an instant behind. The earth was spinning, not west to east, but east to west, spinning every second about 3 miles per hour faster than the second before. Californian’s who‘d just seen the world’s longest sunset, got to see the world’s longest sunrise directly afterward. Not that it was very much longer.

It was about six minutes before the acceleration stopped, the earth spinning as fast as before, just in the opposite direction. There wasn’t much difference. Whatever it was had taken care of the satellites. For the sake of preserving believability, I won’t even mention what happened to the moon.

The only real difference was that the sun now came up in the west and set in the east, which made Lord of the Rings, and anything else which used the sun setting as a key metaphor, odd to re-read.

There were a lot of news articles and press conferences, and an abundance of snark. Certain U.S. senators spoke of natural cycles, and others of the wrath of God, but NASA couldn’t guess anything but that the aliens had had a good laugh.

Personally, I think the whole thing was, in some inscrutable way, an accident, a glitch in the gum and popsicle stick system, the thin gauze that is the orderly universe peeling back for a moment to reveal the madness beneath.

Cthulhu, in short.


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