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 18, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 18, 2019
North American Bird Populations Fell 29% Over 50 Years, But is it Too Late?
Birds are often at the forefront of interest when it comes to wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. Sadly, new scientific research suggests that bird pop...
NOV 18, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
NOV 18, 2019
Dolphins Lost 85 Genes to Become Aquatic
Dolphins, whales and porpoises are marine mammals; otherwise known as cetaceans. Although they live exclusively underwater nowadays, tens of millions of ye...
NOV 18, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 18, 2019
These Birds Mate for Life
Meet the Picathartes, a bird species that resides in the Congo and has done such for more than 44 million years. These birds mate for life, and in order fo...
NOV 18, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
NOV 18, 2019
A Revealing Look at Rare Disease Incidence
Being diagnosed with a rare disease can be especially terrifying for patients. After all, many of these diseases have no treatment options. This is because...
NOV 18, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 18, 2019
Have You Heard of the World's Most Trafficked Animal?
If you were asked what the world’s most trafficked animal was, what would you say? If you answered pangolin, then you’d be correct. Most people...
NOV 18, 2019
Health & Medicine
NOV 18, 2019
Sherlock's DNA biosensors set to make diagnostics elementary
The anxious wait to receive results from expensive diagnostic laboratory tests could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a technological breakthrough. En...
Loading Comments...