If you’ve ever looked at a globe or a map of the world, you’ve probably noticed lots of different lines. What do all these lines mean? If you go to those parts of the world, can you see the lines? Could you trip over them?

Don’t worry! None of those lines are actual lines that you can see on the ground. They’re just imaginary lines we use on maps to help us measure and understand the world we live in.

The lines you see on a globe or a map of the world are called lines of latitude and longitude. Latitude lines run east and west (side to side) and help us measure distances north and south. Longitude lines run north and south (up and down) and help us measure distances east and west.

Latitude and longitude lines measure distances in units called degrees. The lines of latitude and longitude where we start measuring from have special names. The equator is 0 degrees latitude, and the prime meridian is 0 degrees longitude.

The equator is the halfway point between the North Pole and the South Pole. It runs from side to side across the middle of the Earth through parts of South America, Africa and Asia.

The prime meridian runs through the United Kingdom, France, Spain, parts of Africa and Antarctica. Its position was not determined by choosing a halfway point between particular natural features, like the Earth’s poles.

In fact, although the earliest maps have the equator marked on them, the prime meridian wasn’t officially named and marked until the late 1800s. Before that time, over a dozen different locations were being used to mark 0 degrees longitude. The International Meridian Conference of 1884 chose a single line of longitude running through Greenwich, England, as the prime meridian.

The earth is a sphere and the equator and the prime meridian divide the Earth into four hemispheres: north, south, east and west. For example, the United States is in both the Northern Hemisphere (because it’s north of the equator) and the Western Hemisphere (because it’s west of the prime meridian).

Because of the equator’s position halfway between the Earth’s poles, its climate is warm and sunny. Tropical rainforests thrive near the equator because of the sun and rain areas receive along the equator.

If you wanted to travel all the way around the Earth along the equator, you’d need to travel about 25,000 miles! It’s difficult to measure the exact length of the equator, though, because it travels up and down hills and mountains throughout South America and Africa.

 

38 Join the Discussion

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  1. I am so excited for today’s wonder it is only 7:03 AM, and I already can’t wait to share this wonder with my class. We are in the middle of our Earth and Space science unit and all 4 vocabulary words are on our science word wall.
    You ROCK today for MC students!!!

    • Well, YOU and your MC students ROCK EVERY DAY, Maria! We’re so excited that today’s Wonder aligns with what you guys are learning about in class! We love it when COOL learning coincidences happen like that! :-)

    • We’re glad you think that, Caelah! We really had fun learning about latitude, longitude and the equator, and we’re glad you did, too! :-)

  2. We think we know tomorrow’s wonder! Could it be about the Great Bambino, Babe Ruth? We hope so. We have studied about the equator and would love to get there some time. Do you know how people figured out where the equator was? We also checked out the #1 Wonder yesterday, cool! Thanks for all the cool info! We can’t wait for tomorrow’s!

    • It makes us so happy to hear that you can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s Wonder is, Mr. Draper’s Class! We think your guess about what it might be is AWESOME, too! We hope you’re right…we think it would be FUN to learn about Babe Ruth! :-)

    • We WONDER about that, too, Mr. P. and Mr. Carroll’s 3rd graders! We’ll all have to do some more WONDERing to find out the answer! :-)

    • We think it’s super AWESOME that you learned something new in Wonderopolis today, Wonder Friend “E!” Thanks so much for stopping by this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  3. I always thought that you could see the Equator. My brother Matthew did, too. So did my sister, Jessica. Jessica did not even now about the Equator until I told her about it a let her watch the video. Wonderopolis thank you for the video. Jessica learned a lot from it. See you later!!!!!

    • Woo, hoo! We’re super glad that you, Matthew and Jessica explored today’s Wonder and that you ALL had FUN discovering things you never knew before about the equator, Katie! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis today! :-)

      • Hi Wonder Friend! We hope you enjoyed our Wonder about the equator today! You can enjoy the video as many times as you’d like by visiting this site! :)

  4. Our location is approximately 31 degrees north and 106 degrees west!

    We think tomorrow’s Wonder is about Babe Ruth (with a little help from our teacher).

    • COOL! Thanks so much for letting us know your location using latitude and longitude, Miss Kirsten’s Kindergarten GT Class! We bet it is WONDERful to live in Texas! :-)

  5. I liked the video. It was cool. There was a guy who was kayaking in the video and he talked about the equator. This website is new to me but I like it.

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Michaela! We’re so glad to hear that you like visiting Wonderopolis! We hope you’ll stop by again soon for some more FUN learning! :-)

    • Thanks so much for sharing what you think about seeing the equator, Kamryn! We hope you had a WONDERful day today! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing what you think about the euquator, Ashley! We’re so glad you stopped by Wonderopolis today! :-)

  6. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Cool wonder! No you can’t see the equator. The equator is an invisible line that splits the earth in half. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about stars.
    XOXOXOXOXO,
    Paige ;)

    • Thanks for sharing another AWESOME comment with us, Paige! We really appreciate your guess for tomorrow’s Wonder! :-)

    • Thanks so much for sharing this Wonder of the Day® with your cousin, Morgan! You’re an AWESOME Wonder Friend! :-)

  7. HEY wonderopolis that was a really good topic to do a wonder on. I believe that you cannot see the equator, but if you get close enough, you can feel it. The guys in the video were like explorers. I try to get on your awesome site every day to check out your awesome wonders.

    • We think your comment is AWESOME, Jeremy…THANKS for leaving it for us to discover! We really appreciate your view on whether or not folks can see the equator! :-)

    • We’re glad you enjoyed exploring this Wonder about the equator, Claire! Thanks so much for letting us know! :-)

    • SUPER news, Wonder Friend Addison, we are quite glad you’re here! We love all the WONDERing you’ve been doing and we hope you do have enjoyed learning about the Equator! The Equator usually has tropical weather, and surrounding lands average 70 – 85 degrees F (Fahrenheit). However, that is based on the season, of course! We are glad you enjoyed our Wonder videos– it’s great to have a Wonder Friend like you! :)

    • Great question, lilman1526! We’re so glad you have been WONDERing with us today! HOORAY! While we can’t see the equator, we find it by measuring. When we divide the Earth in half, that’s where the equator is! Great work! :)

    • Phew, it sure is, Kaleb! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today! We Wonder how far you have traveled? How many miles did you travel to get to your destination? :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Can you see the equator?
  • Which direction do latitude and longitude lines run?
  • What is the prime meridian?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to learn more about latitude and longitude? Go online to explore this interactive world map. You’ll see the equator and the prime meridian and be challenged to explore how these lines divide the globe.

When you’re finished exploring the world map, find where you live on an online map. Using a map, try to answer the following questions about where you live:

  • What is the latitude where you live?
  • What is the longitude where you live?
  • Do you live in the Eastern or Western Hemisphere?
  • Do you live in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere?
  • How far and in what direction is your home from the equator?
  • How far and in what direction is your home from the prime meridian?

When you’re finished, share the latitude and longitude of your home city with your Wonder Friends on Facebook. Check to see what other latitudes and longitudes your friends have posted, and then try to find their home cities on a map.

 

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Introduction to Latitude and Longitude lesson, students look at lines of latitude and longitude on a United States map and discuss the reasons why these lines are helpful.

 

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day features a babe who could swing with the best of them!

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