Can mining alter Earth's orbit?

01 April 2012

Question

With all the millions of tons of material that is mined from the earth and redistributed around the globe is there a chance it could effect or alter the planet's orbit?

Andy from Folkestone

Answer

In order to change the Earth's orbit, you've got to somehow apply a force to the Earth. Mining is essentially just moving material around on the Earth; they might dig something out of the ground, move it to the top of a skyscraper or even burn it and move it into the atmosphere. Now, this could conceivably have a very, very tiny effect on how the Earth is rotating because if you change the shape of the object, it will change how it rotates. But you're not applying any forces to anything else in the Universe, so you can't affect how the Earth is moving. The only conceivable way it might slightly affect things is you might get very, very minute effects where a slightly differently shaped Earth might feels tides from the moon and other planets. These would be microscopically different, but could slightly change the Earth's orbit. But these are going to be tiny effects on tiny effects, on tiny effects. So, far, far, far, too tiny to be measurable.

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