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File:Equator and Prime
Nations that touch the Equator (red) or the Prime Meridian (blue)

An equator is the intersection of a sphere's surface with the plane perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation and containing the sphere's center of mass. The capitalized term Equator refers to the Earth's equator.

In simpler language, the Equator is an imaginary line on the Earth's surface 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

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The latitude of the Equator is 0°. The length of Earth's equator is 40,008.629 kilometres (24,860.2 mi). The Equator is one of the five main circles of latitude on Earth (the others being the Polar Circles and the Tropical Circles). 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.

, in São Tomé and Príncipe]]

Places on the Equator experience the quickest rates of sunrise and sunset in the world. They are also the only places in the world where the sun can go directly from the zenith to the nadir and from the nadir to the zenith. Such places also have a theoretical constant 12 hours of day and night throughout the year, though 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.

The Earth bulges slightly at the Equator. It has an average diameter of 12,750 kilometres (7,922 mi), but at the Equator the diameter is approximately 43 kilometres (27 mi) greater than the polar diameter.


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 an approximately 9 metres (30 ft) radius circular motion each year. Thus, the true equator moves slightly, but this effect is only relevant to detailed scientific studies.

Equatorial seasons and climate

[[File:|200px|thumb|The "Marco Zero" in Macapá, Brazil.]] Near the Equator there is little distinction between summer, winter, autumn or spring. Temperatures are high year round (permanent "summer"), with the exception of 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 4,690 metres (15,387 ft), at 0°0′0″N 77°59′31″W / 0°N 77.99194°W / 0; -77.99194 (highest point on the Equator), on the south slopes of Volcán Cayambe (summit 5,790 metres (18,996 ft)) 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:

Co-ordinates Country, territory or sea Notes
0°N 0°E / 0°N 0°E / 0; 0 (Prime Meridian) Atlantic Ocean Gulf of Guinea
0°0′N 6°31′E / 0°N 6.517°E / 0; 6.517 (São Tomé and Príncipe) Template:Country data São Tomé and Príncipe Ilhéu das Rolas
0°0′N 6°31′E / 0°N 6.517°E / 0; 6.517 (Atlantic Ocean) Atlantic Ocean Gulf of Guinea
0°0′N 9°21′E / 0°N 9.35°E / 0; 9.35 (Gabon)  Gabon
0°0′N 13°56′E / 0°N 13.933°E / 0; 13.933 (Republic of the Congo)  Republic of the Congo
0°0′N 17°46′E / 0°N 17.767°E / 0; 17.767 (Democratic Republic of the Congo)  Democratic Republic of the Congo
0°0′N 29°43′E / 0°N 29.717°E / 0; 29.717 (Uganda)  Uganda
0°0′N 32°22′E / 0°N 32.367°E / 0; 32.367 (Lake Victoria) Lake Victoria Passing through some islands of  Uganda
0°0′N 34°0′E / 0°N 34°E / 0; 34 (Kenya) Template:Country data Kenya
0°0′N 41°0′E / 0°N 41°E / 0; 41 (Somalia)  Somalia
0°0′N 42°53′E / 0°N 42.883°E / 0; 42.883 (Indian Ocean) Indian Ocean Passing between Huvadhu Atoll and Fuvahmulah of the  Maldives
0°0′N 98°12′E / 0°N 98.2°E / 0; 98.2 (Indonesia) Template:Country data Indonesia The Batu Islands, Sumatra and the Lingga Islands
0°0′N 104°34′E / 0°N 104.567°E / 0; 104.567 (Karimata Strait) Karimata Strait
0°0′N 109°9′E / 0°N 109.15°E / 0; 109.15 (Indonesia) Template:Country data Indonesia Borneo
0°0′N 117°30′E / 0°N 117.5°E / 0; 117.5 (Makassar Strait) Makassar Strait
0°0′N 119°40′E / 0°N 119.667°E / 0; 119.667 (Indonesia) Template:Country data Indonesia Sulawesi
0°0′N 120°5′E / 0°N 120.083°E / 0; 120.083 (Gulf of Tomini) Gulf of Tomini
0°0′N 124°0′E / 0°N 124°E / 0; 124 (Molucca Sea) Molucca Sea
0°0′N 127°24′E / 0°N 127.4°E / 0; 127.4 (Indonesia) Template:Country data Indonesia Kayoa and Halmahera islands
0°0′N 127°53′E / 0°N 127.883°E / 0; 127.883 (Halmahera Sea) Halmahera Sea
0°0′N 129°20′E / 0°N 129.333°E / 0; 129.333 (Indonesia) Template:Country data Indonesia Gebe Island
0°0′N 129°21′E / 0°N 129.35°E / 0; 129.35 (Pacific Ocean) Pacific Ocean Passing just north of Waigeo island, Template:Country data Indonesia
Passing just south of Aranuka atoll, Template:Country data Kiribati
Passing just south of Baker Island,  United States Minor Outlying Islands
0°0′N 91°35′W / 0°N 91.583°W / 0; -91.583 (Ecuador)  Ecuador Isabela Island in the Galápagos Islands
0°0′N 91°13′W / 0°N 91.217°W / 0; -91.217 (Pacific Ocean) Pacific Ocean
0°0′N 80°6′W / 0°N 80.1°W / 0; -80.1 (Ecuador)  Ecuador Passing just north of Quito
0°0′N 75°32′W / 0°N 75.533°W / 0; -75.533 (Colombia)  Colombia
0°0′N 70°3′W / 0°N 70.05°W / 0; -70.05 (Brazil)  Brazil Including some islands in the mouth of the Amazon River
0°0′N 49°20′W / 0°N 49.333°W / 0; -49.333 (Atlantic Ocean) Atlantic Ocean

Despite its name, no part of Equatorial Guinea's territory lies on the Equator. However, its island of Annobón is 155 kilometres (100 mi) 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, 4.3 kilometres (2.7 mi) south of the Equator.

File:Mitad del Mundo GPS
Monuments and signs along the line of the GPS-calculated Equator at Museo de Sitio Intiñan, Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador. In the front there is a device for demonstrating water circling in different directions in different hemispheres.

Crossing the Equator

Certain navies, such as the Royal Navy and the US Navy, have a tradition of holding ceremonies on board ship to mark sailors' first crossing of the Equator. These rites of initiation have in the past been notorious for their brutality. Milder line-crossing ceremonies, typically featuring King Neptune, are also held for passengers' entertainment on some civilian ocean liners and cruise ships.

Exact length of the Equator

In two widely-used geodetic standards, the Equator is modeled as a circle whose radius is a whole number of metres. In 1976 the IAU standardized this radius as 6,378,140 metres (20,925,656 ft), subsequently refined by the IUGG to 6,378,137 metres (20,925,646 ft) 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 40,075,016.686 metres (131,479,713.54 ft) in WGS-84 and 40,075,035.535 metres (131,479,775.38 ft) in IAU-1976 and IAU-2000.[1]

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 1,855.3248 metres (6,087.024 ft) or 1,855.3257 metres (6,087.027 ft) for respectively WGS-84 and IAU-2000, a difference of nearly a millimeter.

The earth is standardly modeled as a sphere flattened 0.336% along its axis. This makes the Equator 0.16% longer than a meridian (as a great circle passing through the two poles). The IUGG standard meridian is, to the nearest millimeter, 40,007,862.917 metres (131,259,392.77 ft), one arc minute of which is 1,852.216 metres (6,076.82 ft), explaining the SI standardization of the nautical mile as 1,852 metres (6,076 ft), more than 3 metres (10 ft) short of the geographical mile.

See also


  1. ^ Although millimeter precision can be important up to the scale of a mile, it has negligible physical significance at the scale of a geographic feature such as the Equator. From a computational standpoint, however, millimeter precision or better can be valuable for maintaining consistent results when used in programs for surveying and other applications that require precise measurements. As an overly simple example, if a program were to convert back and forth between the radius and the circumference of the earth sufficiently often while maintaining precision only to a meter each time, errors might accumulate until they became noticeable.


  • Moritz, H (September 1980). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Geodetic Reference System 1980"]. Bulletin Géodésique (Berlin: Springer-Verlag) 54 (3): 395–405. doi:10.1007/BF02521480.  (IUGG/WGS-84 data)
  • Taff, Laurence G (1981). Computational Spherical Astronomy. New York: Wiley. ISBN 047106257X. OCLC 6532537.  (IAU data)

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also Equator



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Alternative forms


From Late Latin (circulus) aequator (diei et noctis).





equator (plural equators)

  1. (often “the Equator) An imaginary great circle around the earth, equidistant from the two poles, and dividing earth's surface into the northern and southern hemisphere.
  2. A similar great circle on any sphere, especially on a celestial body, or on other reasonably symmetrical three-dimensional body.
  3. A short form of the celestial equator.


Related terms

Derived terms


Simple English

File:World map with
Map of Earth showing the equator and other major lines of latitude

The equator is a line which is not real drawn around a sphere or planet, such as the Earth. It is one of the lines known as a line of latitude, or circle of latitude. The name "equator" is Latin language and means "even-maker"; at equator the day and night are exactly the same length around the year.

The equator is halfway between the North Pole and the South Pole. There, the surface of the planet is parallel to the axis of rotation. The equator divides the surface into the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.


Unlike the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere, countries around the equator do not experience the four seasons, and the climate is usually very humid.

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