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Mathematics Topics-Coordinate System


Coordinate systems
Numeric methods of representing locations on the earth's surface.

Latitude and Longitude

The most commonly used coordinate system today is latitude and longitude- angle measures, expressed in degrees, minutes, and seconds.

Equator and Prime Meridian

The Equator and the Prime Meridian are the reference lines used to measure latitude and longitude. The equator which lies halfway between the poles is a natural reference for latitude. A line through Greenwich, England, just outside London, is the Prime Meridian.

Latitude- Parallels that run east-west.
Longitude- Meridians that run north-south.
Latitude runs from 0 at the equator to 90N or 90S at the poles. These lines of latitude, called parallels, run in an east-west direction. Lines of longitude, called meridians, run in a north-south direction intersecting at both poles. Longitude runs from 0 at the prime meridian to 180 east or west, halfway around the globe.

More on Degrees, Minutes, and Seconds

On the globe, one degree of latitude equals approximately 70 miles. One minute is just over a mile, and one second is around 100 feet. Length of a degree of longitude varies, from 69 miles at the equator to 0 at the poles. Because meridians converge at the poles, degrees of longitude tend to 0.

Longitude and Time

Since the earth rotates 360 degrees every 24 hours, or 15 degrees every hour, it's divided into 24 time zones- 15 degrees of longitude each. When it is noon at Greenwich, it is 10:00 A.M. 30 degrees W., 6:00 A.M. 90 degrees W., and midnight at 180 degrees on the opposite side of the earth.

Historical Note

The planet gave no clear direction on selecting the Prime Meridian, as it did with the equator lying half-way between the poles as the 0 degree of latitude. As late as 1881, there were 14 different prime meridians still being used on topographic survey maps alone. The International Meridian Conference of 1884 adopted the Prime Meridian line passing through the Greenwich Observatory near London, England. Take a trip down the Prime Meridian and explore the countries that lie on it.
Table of Contents
Maps Main Page
What are Maps?
Map History
Math Topics
Math Problems
Web Resources
Careers
Teachers' Notes
References
Other Math Lessons
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Copyright December 1996-2004 Cynthia Lanius
URL http://math.rice.edu/~lanius/pres/map/mapcoo.html