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The Equator

Explore connections in mathematics and nature with this article on the Equator.
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The Equator

The equator is an imaginary circle around the Earth that is equidistant from the North and South Poles. In other words, it is the dividing line between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Of course, the equator is not something you can physically see or touch in your travels, but it remains a key concept in our understanding of the shape, size, and behavior of Earth. As a line of division, the equator both separates and helps us to distinguish one geographic region from another. You can see an example of this in in the change of the seasons; depending on which side of the equator you live, your summer will begin either in June or December.

The equator is especially important to us because it provides a geographic frame of reference for describing and pinpointing locations. To determine our location on Earth, we use maps with a system of latitude and longitude lines; the equator serves as the baseline from which latitude is measured. In fact, if you were to consider the network of latitude and longitude lines on Earth as a Cartesian coordinate system wrapped around a sphere, the equator would be the x-axis. The y-axis would be the prime meridian, or the baseline for longitude, which runs perpendicular to the equator and stretches from pole to pole, passing through Greenwich, England. Using both the equator and prime meridian as lines of reference, we can accurately determine locations anywhere on the globe.

As the center line of latitude on Earth, the equator has other intriguing properties. You will weigh less at the equator than you would at one of the poles; the rotation of the Earth slightly diminishes the force of gravity there. In fact, due to the Earth's rotation, if you were to stand on the equator, you would be spinning around its axis at 1037 miles per hour, even if you were standing still.

The regions closest to the equator can also be distinguished from other regions of the world by their extremely warm and moist climate. This region of the Earth receives more sunlight than any other, and the warmer temperatures accelerate moisture evaporation, resulting in more rainfall. Rain forests thrive in this climate, and on a map of the world, you can see that most of the world's rain forests are grouped around the equator. Given this climate, you may think it impossible to find snow when traveling around the equator; however, this is not the case. For example, in Africa, an extinct volcano named Mount Kenya reaches 17,058 feet high. At that altitude, snow and ice is abundant, regardless of the climate along the rest of the equator.

For an "imaginary circle", the equator has a great deal of significance. As an abstract line of geographic demarcation, it both divides and organizes the globe into sections and represents a distinct region in and of itself. Indeed, the climate zones and ecology around the equator are like no other on Earth.

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