Yesterday’s Wordless Wednesday post displayed two photos from the flight tracker on a Delta Air Lines flight from Los Angeles to Sydney in 2014.

crossing equatorJust crossing equator

The post asked if there was anything special about these photos. The answer to the question appears in this post on Thursday because today there is no need to try to be wordless.

Crossing the Equator

What I think is special about the photos from flight tracker is they show the aircraft is crossing the equator. The first photo shows the plane over the Pacific Ocean somewhere north of New Zealand. It is hard to tell the plane’s position from this photo.

The second photo is the giveaway. It shows the plane’s position at 169º 3′ 0″ W longitude, 0º 0′ 29″ N latitude — virtually smack dab on the equator! At the equator one second of latitude equals about 100 feet. So 29″ North latitude is slightly less than one kilometer from the precise line that defines the equator.

National Geographic Society

I thank several thoughtful readers who ventured a guess about the photos in the comments. One sharp-eyed follower caught it. Congratulations Prof. Borden.

Crossing the equator is something I don’t do everyday. I enjoy knowing about when it happens so I monitored the flight tracker. There was no announcement from the flight deck on this flight. That is standard as passengers are likely sleeping or entertaining themselves with audio or video selections and generally prefer to go undisturbed.

If I’m awake when a flight approaches certain invisible geographic lines on the globe like the equator, the prime meridian, or the international date line, I will turn on the flight following system to try to identify precisely when that happens. Anything for a bit of fun on a long transoceanic flight, right? 😄

A real treat is when flights approach the North Pole. While the distance between lines of latitude remains nearly constant, the distance between lines of longitude decreases dramatically as they approach the Earth’s poles. If the flight following system shows latitude and longitude information (some newer systems lack this feature), longitude readings change rapidly near the poles.


Equator Fun Facts

Here are some facts about the equator you might enjoy.

  • The equator is the imaginary line on the Earth that is equidistant from its poles, dividing Earth into northern and southern hemispheres. 
  • By definition the latitude of the Earth’s equator is 0 degrees, while the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn each lie at 23.5 degrees latitude.
  • Earth is an oblate spheroid not a sphere.  It bulges at the equator and flattens at the poles.   The Earth’s diameter at the equator is about 43 km (27 mi) greater than at the poles.
  • The equator is the only line of latitude which is also a great circle—that is, one whose plane passes through the center of the globe. The plane of Earth’s equator, when projected onto the heavens defines the celestial equator.
  • The precise location of the equator is not fixed.  The equatorial plane is perpendicular to the Earth’s axis of rotation, which drifts about 9 metres (30 ft) during a year. 
  • The equator passes through the land or territorial waters of 13 countries:  Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Sao Tome & Principe, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Maldives, Indonesia and Kiribati.     
  • Ecuador is the only country named after a geographical feature.  The official name of the nation is República del Ecuador, which in English translates to “The Republic of the Equator.”
  • While temperatures at the equator are usually very hot, it snows on the equator in one place at least.  The highest point on the equator is  Mount Cayambe an Ecuadorian volcano with a summit at 4,690m (15,387 ft) above sea level.  Cayambe has a snowpack year round.   
    OIP (1)
    Mount Cayambe, Ecuador photo
  • The equator is the best spot on Earth for launching rockets into space.  Earth’s rotation is fastest at the equator, about 460 m (1,509 ft)/sec.  The added velocity reduces the amount of fuel needed to launch spacecraft (eastward in the direction of Earth’s rotation) into orbit and eliminates the need for maneuvers to align the inclination of a spacecraft’s orbit such as are required on missions like the Apollo moon flights that were launched from Florida.
  • Seafaring tradition requires that sailors who cross the equator during a sea voyage must undergo initiation into what is known as “The Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep.”
  • Sailors who have never crossed the equator are referred to as “pollywogs” and are required to undertake various rituals performed by those members of the crew who have made the journey before in order to pay respect to King Neptune.  Upon completion of the initiation ceremony, pollywogs become “trusty Shellbacks.”

Final Thoughts

I suppose getting a thrill out of knowing when I’m crossing the equator and finding some of the facts about that imaginary line to be fun and interesting is a bit “geeky.”  But I’ve always preferred keeping up with stuff like that over seemingly mindless things like keeping up with the Kardashians. 

Have you crossed the equator?  Were any celebrations or ceremonies involved?  Please share your experience and any other interesting facts about the equator in the comments.  Thanks!

References: Longitude and Latitude

Alliance work partners:  Fun Fact Friday, The Equator

Wikipedia: Equator