What’s latitude?

iStock graphic of earth with lines showing latitude

Latitude strains begin on the equator (0 levels latitude) and run east and west, parallel to the equator. Strains of latitude are measured in levels north or south of the equator to 90 levels on the North or South poles. A transcript is on the market that describes this infographic content material in plain textual content. (Picture credit score: iStock)

Strains of latitude, additionally referred to as parallels, are imaginary strains that divide the Earth. They run east to west, however measure your distance north or south. The equator is essentially the most well-known parallel. At 0 levels latitude, it equally divides the Earth into the Northern and Southern hemispheres. From the equator, latitude will increase as you journey north or south, reaching 90 levels at every pole.

Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory, Credit: City of Gaithersburg

Since 1899

Do you know that the Nationwide Ocean Service (NOS) has been monitoring latitude since 1899? A scientist with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (later included into NOS) constructed an observatory close to his dwelling in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and commenced accumulating latitude measurements as a part of a worldwide challenge to watch the wobble of the Earth on its polar axis. One other observatory was inbuilt Ukiah, California, becoming a member of worldwide stations at places alongside the thirty ninth parallel north. Satellite tv for pc information changed human observations within the Eighties, however the information from the observatories continues to be getting used.

There are different named strains of latitude. They’re based mostly on the solar’s place throughout Earth’s orbit, they usually assist us perceive local weather, climate, and ocean currents. The Tropic of Most cancers, at roughly 23 levels north, and the Tropic of Capricorn, at roughly 23 levels south, are the boundaries of what we think about the tropics. The Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle are at roughly 66 levels north and south, respectively. They mark the boundaries of the Arctic and Antarctic areas.

Every diploma of latitude covers about 111 kilometers on the Earth’s floor. One diploma of latitude might be additional divided into 60 minutes, and one minute might be additional divided into 60 seconds. A second of latitude covers solely about 30.7 meters. In contrast to longitude strains, which get nearer to one another on the poles, latitude strains are parallel. Irrespective of the place you might be on Earth, latitude strains are the identical distance aside.

Latitude and longitude have been utilized in astronomy and navigation since historic instances. By calculating the angle between the horizon and a celestial object (often the solar or the North Star), navigators may decide their approximate latitude utilizing fundamental instruments. The calculations had been easy, so measuring latitude at sea was dependable a whole bunch of years earlier than correct longitude measurements may very well be calculated throughout a voyage. If the North Star was 60 levels above the horizon, the observer was at 60 levels latitude (north). This course of was extra complicated within the southern hemisphere, the place the North Star is just not seen.

We nonetheless look to the sky to find out our place, however the gear is a little more refined. A constellation of over 30 world positioning satellites orbit the Earth, transmitting alerts to receivers on land. NOS’s Nationwide Geodetic Survey manages a community of stationary world positioning satellite tv for pc receivers referred to as Repeatedly Working Reference Stations (CORS). When mixed with different positioning information within the Nationwide Spatial Reference System, processed CORS information can present latitude, longitude, and top positions correct to inside a couple of centimeters.

half of the Earth viewed from space

Whereas the Earth seems to be spherical when seen from the vantage level of house, it’s really nearer to an ellipsoid. Our planet is pudgier on the equator than on the poles as a result of centrifugal power created by the earth’s fixed rotation. The truth that the Earth is just not an ideal sphere makes calculating latitude strains with excessive levels of accuracy a sophisticated endeavor.

Levels of Accuracy

If we assume the Earth is an ideal sphere, strains of latitude are comparatively easy to calculate. The latitude of a sure level on the floor of the Earth is the angle between two strains: a line from that location to the middle of the Earth and a line from the middle of the Earth to the Equator. This technique of calculation provides us geocentric strains of latitude. Nonetheless, this technique is just not correct sufficient for astronomy, world positioning, and different real-world purposes. As a substitute, we use what is called geodetic latitude. This technique of calculating latitude for any level on Earth accounts for the truth that the Earth is definitely squished on the poles as a result of centrifugal power created by the planet’s rotation. Measuring latitude strains with excessive levels of accuracy is however one element of geodesy, the science of precisely measuring and understanding the Earth’s geometric form, orientation in house, and gravity subject.

Infographic Transcript: Latitude

  • The left picture reveals the Earth tilted on its axis. A piece has been lower away to point out latitude strains (or parallels) that run horizontally from the equator to the North Pole. These are labeled from 0 to 80 levels north. The equator and the Greenwich meridian line (prime meridian) are additionally labeled. Extra strains are drawn from the middle of the Earth to every labeled parallel. These illustrate that the latitude measurement for every level equals the angle made between the road to the middle of the earth and one drawn by way of the aircraft of the equator. Close to the South Pole, an arrow signifies the course of the Earth’s rotation on its axis.
  • The proper picture reveals the Earth with the equator and Greenwich meridian line labeled. The world north of the equator is labeled Northern Hemisphere; the realm south of the equator is labeled Southern Hemisphere. Latitude strains are labeled from the north pole (90 levels north) to the equator (0 levels) and all the way down to the south pole (90 levels south).