Hey, Who Moved The Arctic Circle?
I worry a lot about our planet. It is, after all, the only one we've got. Sure we've been planning on taking over Mars for years -- we even sent a couple of spaceships up there to scope it out -- but after seeing the movie Independence Day NASA came to the realization that it might not be such a good idea. I guess the thought of running into the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and a huge group of special effects artists scared them off.While other people concern themselves with problems like global warming, dwindling rain forests and holes in the ozone layer big enough to drive Anna Nicole Smith through, the truth is these are all problems which we, as the closest things we have to intelligent beings on this planet, can take care of on our own. But Mother Earth, being the middle-aged universe-frau she is, is going through bodily changes we have no control over.For years scientists have known that her continents are sagging, her ocean floor has dropped and her youthful figure has given way to a shape that would drive Richard Simmons to tears, something normally reserved for David Letterman. But now they've made a more startling discovery: Howard Stern can drive Richard Simmons to tears too. Actually, they've known this for years. The real news is that the Arctic Circle has moved.The Arctic Circle, for those of you who think Greenland is the name of Martha Stewart's estate, is an imaginary line around the Earth about three- quarters of the way from the Equator (or the Earth's waistline) to the North Pole (or the top of the Earth's bald head). The area north of the Arctic Circle is known as the "Land of the Midnight Sun", everything south is "the Civilized World".The Land of the Midnight Sun is so named because the Land of 1000 Dances was taken by Cannibal and the Headhunters in 1965. That and the fact that the sun doesn't set there on the summer solstice, which is defined as the longest day of the year, the beginning of summer and both Meredith Baxter- Birney and Michael Gross' birthdays, answering once and for all what the family tie was on Family Ties. That day -- usually June 21st but soon to be the third Monday in June so bank employees and disgruntled postal workers can have a three-day weekend -- the sun comes up and makes a circle around the sky but doesn't set until August 2nd. Really. Ask Mr. Wizard if you don't believe me.Not only does this make for some hellacious parties in Barrow, Alaska -- the northernmost city in the United States -- but it's a bonanza for the makers of sunscreen (which Barrowites have to wear even while sleeping), sunglasses (which are good to wear if you want any sleep) and flimsy negligee (which they don't have to wear at all but do 24-hours a day because, well, it makes them feel pretty).As if all that's not bad enough, now it turns out that the longest day of the year is longer than it's ever been before. Charles P. Sonett, a professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona, has published an article explaining this in the magazine Science. Science, in case you let your subscription lapse, is a highly respected journal often prescribed for people suffering from terminal insomnia. According to the article, the gravitational pull of the moon is causing the rotation of the Earth to slow down. This is, incidentally, the same rotation that gives us our 24-hour day. Or did, anyway.Before you go resetting your Timex Indiglo watch ("When you absolutely, positively know you want to become sterile"), keep in mind that this change is gradual and occurs over many, many years. Much like male puberty. Sonett claims that 900 million years ago a day was only 18 hours long, a fact that was verified by Bob Dole, who graduated high school that year.At this rate, in another 900 million years (defined as how long any given Pauly Shore movie feels) a day will consist of 32 hours. This means you'll finally have that extra time you've been pissing and moaning about to finish the bookshelves for the living room; take the kids to soccer, ballet and water bowling on Thursdays; watch another 8 hours a day of the Kathi Lee Gifford Network ("All child labor, all the time") and figure out just where the hell the Arctic Circle has moved to.That's right, the same variations in the Earth's rotation that will give us an extra 2,920 hours a year (or four bonus months!) is causing the Arctic Circle to move. The Arctic Circle, for those of you who can't retain information from the third paragraph until now, is the northernmost point that the sun can be seen on the shortest day of the year. Verdens Gang, a newspaper in Oslo, Norway named after a renegade motorcycle club that raids lutefish factories throughout Scandinavia, reports that the Arctic Circle is now 913 yards north of where everyone thought it was."This is like the devil arriving," says Alf-Erik Hansen, who runs a cafe, souvenir shop and museum in what used to be the Arctic Circle. Maybe, maybe not, but it sure beats seeing Independence Day at the Barrow, Alaska Cinemaplex. Hell, all they've got this time of year are matinees.