AUG 15, 2017 05:38 AM PDT

If Earth is Spinning East, Why Does it Take Longer to Go West?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

A nonstop flight from San Francisco to New York takes about 5 hours and 30 minutes. The same flight going in the opposite direction, from New York and ending in San Francisco, will take almost one hour longer. Why does flying west take longer, especially given that the westward-bound plane would be going opposite the earth's eastward spin? That is, if earth is spinning east, why does it take longer to go west?

The earth's rotation does play a role in slowing your westward flights, but not in the way that you would think. As it turns out, the earth's rotation affects high altitude winds known as the jet stream. As the earth spins towards the east, it pulls everything with it, causing jet streams that blow from the west to the east. Like the physics on the ground, objects that move with the jet stream current travel faster than objects that travel against the jet stream current. So, whether you're at sea level or at the cruising altitude of a Boeing 757, it all comes down to tailwinds and headwinds.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 10, 2018
Health & Medicine
NOV 10, 2018
Heart Attack Or Panic Attack? Knowing When To Seek Help
Chest pain, shortness of breath, and feelings of impending doom are all symptoms representative of both heart attacks and panic attacks. For this reason, i...
NOV 11, 2018
Videos
NOV 11, 2018
The Island That Suddenly Disappeared
An island, consisting of a strip of gravel and sand and was important for the survival of beleaguered seals and sea turtles, has suddenly vanished after be...
NOV 20, 2018
Earth & The Environment
NOV 20, 2018
This Massive Impact Crater Was Hiding Underneath Greenland's Ice
After searching the ice-covered lands of Greenland, scientists have discovered what appears to be a massive impact crater that was previously hidden by mor...
NOV 22, 2018
Videos
NOV 22, 2018
The science of gratitude
On a day like Thanksgiving, it is easy to remember all that we are thankful for. But for a while now scientists have been trying to crack the code behind t...
DEC 04, 2018
Space & Astronomy
DEC 04, 2018
Learn How NASA's Apollo 12 Mission Escaped Double Lightning Strikes
When NASA’s Apollo 12 mission was preparing to launch on November 14th, 1969, ominous storm clouds began swarming the launch pad. Regardless, weather...
DEC 06, 2018
Videos
DEC 06, 2018
Stopping the Spread of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria
This informative video from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the problem of antibiotic resistance....
Loading Comments...