The US Air Force once had a plan to stop the Earth’s rotation in case of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. The plan, codenamed Project Retro, was devised in the 1950s and involved detonating thousands of nuclear bombs around the equator.
The idea was to create a massive shockwave that would counteract the Earth’s spin and make it easier to target enemy missiles and bases.
“The officer originating this proposal envisioned that if our Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radars detected and reported on the huge viewing screens at NORAD a large flight of missile warheads coming across the North Pole from the Soviet Union – aimed at our missile fields in North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Missouri – the array of Atlas engines would be fired, as near simultaneously as possible, to stop the Earth’s rotation momentarily,” Daniel Ellsberg wrote, as per the Daily Grail.
However, the plan was never implemented, and for good reason. According to a recent study by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, such a plan would have had catastrophic consequences for life on Earth.
“The Soviet missiles, on their inertial path, would thus bypass or overfly their intended targets. Our land-based retaliatory force would be saved, to carry out – presumably, when things had settled down and Earth was again spinning normally – a retaliatory attack against the cities and soft military targets (their missiles having already left their hardened silos) in the Soviet Union.”
The study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, used computer simulations to model the effects of Project Retro on the Earth’s climate, geology, and biosphere.
The results were alarming. The researchers found that stopping the Earth’s rotation would have drastically altered the distribution of solar radiation, creating extreme temperature differences between day and night. The equator would have become unbearably hot, while the poles would have plunged into perpetual darkness and cold.
The oceans would have also shifted, flooding some regions and drying others. The atmospheric circulation would have collapsed, creating violent storms and hurricanes. And the Earth’s magnetic field, which protects us from harmful cosmic rays, would have weakened or disappeared.
The study concluded that Project Retro would have been a “suicidal” plan that would have wiped out most life on Earth, including humans. The researchers estimated that only about 10 percent of the land surface would have remained habitable, mostly in high latitudes. The surviving life forms would have faced harsh conditions and reduced biodiversity.
The study also highlighted the importance of the Earth’s rotation for maintaining a stable and hospitable climate. The researchers suggested that future studies could explore how changes in the Earth’s spin could affect other planets, such as Mars or Venus, or even exoplanets orbiting other stars.