What If The Earth Spun Sideways On Its Axis

Early in the history of our solar system, something mysteriously knocked Earth slightly off its axis. So today we tilt at 23.5 degrees. But what would happen
if we tilted even more? What if Earth spun sideways on its axis? Well, it wouldn’t take long
before utter chaos ensued. One of the most important consequences of Earth’s axial tilt is the seasons. Seasons happen because the tilt points different parts of the
planet toward the sun at different times of the year. But the tilt also means that
different parts of the globe receive different amounts of
sunlight during each season. And that’s where a more extreme tilt starts to cause problems. Right now, during the summer
in the Northern Hemisphere, places far north, like Utqiagvik, Alaska, receive 24 hours of sunlight for 82 days straight. Because Earth is tilted
far enough on its axis that as the planet rotates, Utqiagvik never leaves direct sunlight. On the other hand, the contiguous US receives a max of 17 hours
a day, because after that it rotates out of daytime
sunlight and into night. But if we tilted Earth’s axis
even more, to 90 degrees, the US would get sunlight
24/7, around the clock, for months on end. And it’s not just the US; the entire Northern
Hemisphere would be like this. At first, animals would take
advantage of the extra light to find and eat more food,
just like Alaskan birds, which feed their chicks extra
nutrition in the summer, resulting in faster-growing babies than their southern counterparts. And plant growth would explode, since they get their energy
directly from sunlight. Farms in northern Alaska, for example, grow cabbages the size of
rottweilers in the summer. But while animals and plants
would thrive, humans wouldn’t. We evolved to be active during
the day and sleep at night. But if we were exposed
to unending sunlight, our brains would stop producing
the hormone melatonin, which we need to sleep at night. And that could lead to sleep deprivation, depression, and, ultimately,
a more severe, chronic version of these symptoms called
seasonal affective disorder, which already affects 9% of Alaskans, compared to just 6% of
the entire United States. But that’s less of a
worry than the floods. Temperatures at the North
Pole would more than double, to 38 degrees Celsius
from 15.5 degrees Celsius. That’s hotter than temperatures
at the equator today. As a result, Greenland’s
ice cap would melt, causing sea levels to rise by 7 meters, and flood nearly every
coastal city on Earth. Say goodbye to New York,
Copenhagen, and Tokyo. To make matters worse, the warmer seas would trigger stronger and
more frequent hurricanes, which form when sea water
evaporates at the surface. And the weather wouldn’t get better when winter comes six months later. Out of reach of the sun’s direct beams for months at a time, the
hemisphere would get colder than any winter on record. Swirls of frigid air,
called a polar vortex, which are normally dissipated
by warm air in the tropics, could travel all the
way down to the equator. Imagine blizzards in
Florida, Brazil, Kenya! And all those thriving plants, they’d die from a lack of sunlight. Agriculture would collapse
as ecosystems crumble and mass extinctions pile up. And there would be even
more floods, because meanwhile, the Southern
Hemisphere is getting toasty and the South Pole is home
to 90% of the world’s ice. The constant sunlight
would raise its temperature to 38 degrees Celsius
from -28 degrees Celsius, melting the ice and raising sea levels by a whopping 61 meters. That’s almost as tall as
the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Greenland’s flood would look
like a puddle in comparison. So all in all, while a few extra hours in the summer sun would be nice, let’s leave the extra seasons to Alaska and be glad the Earth is
tilted exactly as it is.


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