equator, imaginary great circle around the earth, everywhere equidistant from the two geographical poles and forming the base line from which latitude is reckoned. The equator, which measures c.24,902 mi (40,076 km), is designated as lat. 0°. It intersects N South America, central Africa, and Indonesia. The celestial equator is the projection of the plane of the earth's equator on the celestial sphere (see equatorial coordinate system).
The equator (sometimes referred to colloquially as "the Line") is the intersection of the Earth's surface with the plane perpendicular to the Earth's axis of rotation and containing the Earth's center of mass. In more simple language, it is an imaginary line on the Earth's surface approximately equidistant from the North Pole and South Pole that divides the Earth into a Northern Hemisphere and a Southern Hemisphere. The equators of other planets and astronomical bodies are defined analogously.

Geodesy of the equator

The latitude of the equator is, by definition, 0°. The length of Earth's equator is about .

The equator is one of the five main circles of latitude that are based on the relationship between the Earth's axis of rotation and the plane of the Earth's orbit around the sun. It is the only line of latitude which is also a great circle. The imaginary circle obtained when the Earth's equator is projected onto the sky is called the celestial equator.

The Sun, in its seasonal movement through the sky, passes directly over the equator twice each year, on the March and September equinoxes. At the equator, the rays of the sun are perpendicular to the surface of the earth on these dates.

Places on the equator experience the quickest rates of sunrise and sunset in the world. Such places also have a theoretical constant 12 hours of day and night throughout the year (in practice there are variations of a few minutes due to the effects of atmospheric refraction and because sunrise and sunset are measured from the time the edge of the Sun's disc is on the horizon, rather than its centre). North or south of the equator day length increasingly varies with the seasons.

The Earth bulges slightly at the equator. It has an average diameter of , but at the equator the diameter is approximately greater.

Locations near the equator are good sites for spaceports, such as the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, as they are already moving faster than any other point on the Earth due to the Earth's rotation, and the added velocity reduces the amount of fuel needed to launch spacecraft. Spacecraft launched in this manner must launch to the east to use this effect.

For high precision work, the equator is not quite as fixed as the above discussion implies. The true equatorial plane must always be perpendicular to the Earth's spin axis. Although this axis is relatively stable, its position wanders in approximately a radius circular motion each year. Thus, the true equator moves slightly. This, however, is only important for detailed scientific studies. The effect is quite small, and the width of a line marking the equator on almost any map will be much wider than the error.

Equatorial climate

Temperatures near the equator are high year round with the exception for periods during the wet season and at higher altitudes. In many tropical regions people identify two seasons: wet and dry. However, most places close to the equator are wet throughout the year, and seasons can vary depending on a variety of factors including elevation and proximity to an ocean. The rainy and humid conditions mean that the equatorial climate is not the hottest in the world.

The surface of the Earth at the equator is mostly ocean. The highest point on the equator is , at 00°00′00″S, 77°59′31″W, on the south slopes of Volcán Cayambe (summit ) in Ecuador. This is a short distance above the snow line, and this point and its immediate vicinity form the only section of the equator where snow lies on the ground.

Equatorial countries and territories

The equator traverses the land and/or territorial waters of 14 countries. Starting at the Prime Meridian and heading eastwards, the equator passes through:

long Country, territory or sea Notes
Atlantic Ocean Gulf of Guinea
7° E Ilhéu das Rolas
Atlantic Ocean Gulf of Guinea
33° Lake Victoria
35° 40°
43° 50° 60° 70° Indian Ocean
73° Passing between Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll and Gnaviyani Atoll
80° 90° Indian Ocean
100° The Batu Islands, Sumatra and the Lingga Islands
105° Indian Ocean Karimata Strait
110° Borneo
118° Indian Ocean Makassar Strait
120° Sulawesi
121° Indian Ocean Gulf of Tomini
125° Indian Ocean Molucca Sea
127° Kayoa and Halmahera islands
128° Pacific Ocean Halmahera Sea
130° Gebe Island
140° 150° 160° Pacific Ocean
173° Misses every island, passing between Aranuka and Nonouti Atolls
180° Pacific Ocean
176° W Baker Island — passes through territorial waters
The equator also passes through the exclusive economic zones around Howland Island and Jarvis Island, but not through their territorial waters
170° 160° 150° 140° 130° 120° 110° 100° Pacific Ocean
90° Isabela Island in the Galápagos Islands
88° Pacific Ocean
80° The literal translation of Ecuador's official name is "Republic of the Equator"
70° It intersects the country through an Amazon jungle area.
60° 50° Including some islands in the mouth of the Amazon River
40° 30° 20° 10° Atlantic Ocean

Despite its name, no part of Equatorial Guinea's territory lies on the equator. However, its island of Annobón is about south of the equator, and the rest of the country lies to the north. The country that comes closest to the equator without actually touching it is Peru.

"Crossing the Line"

The English-speaking seafaring tradition maintains that all sailors who cross the equator during a nautical voyage must undergo rites of passage and elaborate rituals initiating them into The Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep. Those who have never "crossed the line" are derisively referred to as "pollywogs" or simply "slimy wogs". Upon entering the domain of His Royal Majesty, Neptunus Rex, all wogs are subject to various initiation rituals performed by those members of the crew who have made the journey before. Upon completion of the initiation ceremony, the wogs are then known as "trusty Shellbacks". If the crossing of the equator is done at the 180th meridian, the title of "Bronze Shellback" is conferred, recognizing the simultaneous entry into the realm of the Bronze Dragon. If the crossing occurs at the Greenwich or Prime Meridian, the sailor is considered to be an "Emerald Shellback".

Exact length of the equator

The equator is modeled exactly in two widely used standards as a circle of radius an integer number of meters. In 1976 the IAU standardized this radius as , subsequently refined by the IUGG to and adopted in WGS-84, though the yet more recent IAU-2000 has retained the old IAU-1976 value. In either case, the length of the equator is by definition exactly 2π times the given standard, which to the nearest millimeter is in WGS-84 and in IAU-1976 and IAU-2000.

The geographical mile is defined as one arc minute of the equator, and therefore has different values depending on which standard equator is used, namely or for respectively WGS-84 and IAU-2000, a difference of nearly a millimeter.

The earth is standardly modeled as a sphere flattened about 0.336% along its axis. This results in the equator being about 0.16% longer than a meridian (as a great circle passing through the two poles). The IUGG standard meridian is to the nearest millimeter , one arc minute of which is , explaining the SI standardization of the nautical mile as , more than short of the geographical mile.

Notes and references

  • Moritz, H "Geodetic Reference System 1980". Bulletin Géodésique 54 (3): pp. 395-405. (IUGG/WGS-84 data)
  • Taff, Laurence G (1981). Computational Spherical Astronomy. New York: Wiley. (IAU data)

See also

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