This Week in Nature: Reports of the Earth Spinning in Reverse Have Been Greatly Exaggerated


(Pikisuperstar / Freepik)(Pikisuperstar / Freepik)

On Monday, a pair of scientists from Peking University in Beijing released a research paper, “Multidecadal variation of the rotation of the Earth’s inner core.” Exciting news for geophysicists, but not as snappy as a headline.

It sounds better like “The Earth’s core may be spinning backwards,” and it is many newspapers summarized the results of the study.

Forbes science contributor Eric Mack dug deeper than most mainstream media reporters and explained the nuances of the research. In short: Earth’s core sometimes rotates faster than the outer layers of the planet, and sometimes it rotates slower. But it doesn’t reverse course. And nobody really knows whether the rotational speed of the core matters or not.

But hey, for a minute, everyone paid attention to the science.

Here’s what else caught our eye this week.


The trajectory of BU 2023 with respect to the satellites in orbit.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech)The trajectory of BU 2023 with respect to the satellites in orbit. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Hollywood loves a good story about asteroids hurtling towards Earth. The reality is usually much less dramatic (except for that time a space rock killed all the dinosaurs).

Less than a week ago, an observer in Crimea discovered a near-Earth asteroid dubbed 2023 BU. Faster than you can tell Leonardo Dicaprio, NASA analyzed the data and determined that there was no risk of impact.

But BU 2023 was expected to come within 2,200 miles of Earth, a distance that given the vastness of outer space qualifies as a near miss. For context, there are Earth-orbiting satellites positioned farther than BU’s anticipated 2023 fly-by.

“In fact, this is one of the closest approaches ever recorded from a known near-Earth object,” said Davide Farnocchia, navigation engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab.

Had the asteroid targeted our big blue marble, scientists say it would have disintegrated in the atmosphere. Phew!

Even if it survived the descent, measuring between 11.5 and 28 feet in diameter, 2023 BU is no Chicxulub. That dinosaur killer was nine miles wide.

Climate change

The melting of ice in the Arctic has opened up new sea lanes in previously frozen waters.

As traffic increases, underwater noise increases – studies indicate it has doubled in intensity in the past six years – and the narwhals have had it with noisy neighbors.

Inuit say the noise caused by ships – as loud as an underwater rock concert – is driving away the narwhals, which the Inuit have relied on for centuries for food.

A coalition of Inuit from Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia appeals to the United Nations for help. Voluntary guidelines to reduce noise aren’t working, the Inuit say, and they want the United Nations International Maritime Organization to take mandatory measures.


The The new executive director of the Sierra Club, Ben Jealoushe spent his first official day on the job on January 23rd.

A former president and CEO of the NAACP, Jealous becomes the first person of color to lead the centennial conservation organization, which was criticized in 2021 for promoting a “culture free of accountability for abuse and misconduct.” A damaging report led to the resignation of Jealous’ predecessor Michael Brune.

Jealous plans to spend his first month embarking on a nationwide listening tour, meeting with volunteers, community partners, and chapter leaders.


There are people in Chicago who are still debating the Lucas Museum: the great opportunity the city should have wholeheartedly embraced, or the lakeside blunder mercifully avoided?

We activate the flames.

The The Los Angeles Times published a photo essay of the billionaire Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts, which is scheduled to open in 2025.

What do you think about Chicago? Does it look more like a Rebel Alliance cruiser or an Imperial Star Destroyer?

Go out

If there’s at least 4 inches of snow on the ground — and the forecast looks promising about that — Morton Arboretum is open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Bring your own gear or rent on site.

Tweet of the week

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 | [email protected]


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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