Parallels and meridians

Parallels are imaginary circular lines perpendicular to the Earth’s axis, and their reference is the zero parallel, or equator. They are used to determine latitude, which is the angular distance between the equator and any point on the planet.

Meridians are semi-circular imaginary lines that pass through the North and South poles. They are used to measure the longitude of a point on Earth, relative to the meridian 0, or Greenwich meridian.

ParallelMeridians
DefinitionLines created by man for geographic purposes. They have a circular shape and are perpendicular to the earth’s axis.Lines created by man for geographic purposes. They are semi-circular in shape and cross the Earth at its poles.
Characteristics
  • They divide the Earth into two hemispheres: North and South.
  • The reference line is parallel 0º
  • The last parallel is 90º.
  • They serve as a reference to locate positions on Earth.
  • They allow to calculate the latitude.
  • They divide the Earth into two hemispheres: eastern and western.
  • The reference line is the meridian 0
  • The last meridian is 180, or antimeridian.
  • They are time zone references.
  • They allow to calculate the length.
Points of referenceEcuadorGreenwich Meridian

Index

What are the parallels?

Parallels are man-made lines, with an East-West direction. Each of these lines is numbered, from 0º, which is the equator or equatorial line (the only line that is a circle in strict terms, and that crosses the center of the terrestrial globe), to 90º at the North Pole and the South Pole.

Main parallels

The equator, or parallel 0º, divides the planet into two hemispheres: North and South. It is complemented by other 4 main parallels, with which a distinction is made since they correspond to a specific position of the Earth, with respect to its orbit of the Sun:

  • Arctic Circle: it is the parallel located more to the North. This parallel is the zone in which the polar night (December) and the midnight sun (June) occur in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Tropic of Cancer : it is the northernmost parallel, characterized because it is the place where the Sun reaches its zenith, during the June solstice.
  • Tropic of Capricorn : it is the southernmost parallel in which the Sun reaches its zenith, during the December solstice.
  • Antarctic polar circle: it is the southernmost parallel, where the polar night (June) and the midnight sun (December) of the southern hemisphere occur.

The parallels allow to determine the position to the North or to the South any point on the planet with respect to the equator, which is known as latitude.

What are the meridians?

The meridians are imaginary lines, which go from the North Pole to the South Pole, so they are shaped like semicircles. They divide the Earth into two hemispheres: eastern and western.

Main meridians

There are 360 ​​meridians: 180 to the west and 180 to the east of the zero meridian. The main ones are:

  • Greenwich Meridian : it is named after the contributions of the Greenwich Observatory in London. Furthermore, said parallel “passes” through the location of said observatory. It is also known as the 0 meridian.
  • Antimeridiano : so called because it opposes the Greenwich meridian, forming an angle of 180 degrees with respect to the 0º meridian. It is also known as the 180th meridian.

Since 1884, the 0º meridian has been used to establish world time zones. From it, and towards the East, the hour increases, and towards the West, it decreases.

For its part, the antimeridian is the reference point for the international date change line.

The distance of any point on the planet with respect to the 0º meridian, either east or west, is known as longitude.

See also

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