The difference between latitude and longitude

Most people know this. Latitude is a measure of how far north or south you are from the equator. And longitude is a measure of how far east or west you are from the Greenwich Meridian.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it. In reality, it’s a bit more complex.

I’ve always been slightly bothered that the lines of latitude are completely different in nature to those of longitude. Latitude lines are all different lengths (actually, there are pairs of each length, one in each hemisphere: the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, for example), while all lines of longitude are the same length as one another.

No two lines of latitude go through the same point as one another, while every line of longitude goes through the two poles.

Basically, the longitude lines cut the globe just as your chocolate orange will come apart this Christmas; the lines of latitude are more comparable to the way you’d slice a hunk of mozzarella. (At least they are like the way I slice mozzarella.)

Yet if you switched the methodologies around, it wouldn’t work, because the earth spins on its polar axis. Each 15° wedge of longitude makes a nice one hour segment throughout the latitudes, and in a purist’s world, everyone on a single line of longitude should have their watches set at precisely the same time. While everyone on a given line of latitude will experience the same passage of the sun through the sky on a given day.

This division of the world makes beautiful sense, but it’s more complicated than you’d first have thought. There may be more on this topic later. But for now, I thought I’d throw my curiosity out there.


9 Responses to “The difference between latitude and longitude”

  1. Shanahan on December 12th, 2006 06:59

    Ever hear of the Longitude problem of 1714? It’s a doozy.

  2. Dan on December 13th, 2006 04:51

    I was born 292 years too late! I came up with this independently.


  3. Hannah on August 23rd, 2007 07:36

    Whatever Im just looking for the answer to my homework assignment. The question is what is the difference between latitude and longitude?

  4. Dan on August 23rd, 2007 08:38

    Hi Hannah!

    Hopefully the first paragraph is enough for your homework assignment. I think it’s succinct and accurate.

    Good luck!


  5. Cassidy on September 25th, 2007 08:47

    I think you should say how far apart from line to line in a box in feet, inches, yards,or miles

  6. collet.francis-palmer on September 16th, 2008 23:47

    I love you

  7. COOL DUDE on September 17th, 2008 19:03


  8. Kendra on September 17th, 2008 23:20

    I love the Jonas Brothers too! Any way, I wish they had how many miles apart the lines are.

  9. michael on September 18th, 2008 23:55

    you suck

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