diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 15, 2003

No minutes, no seconds

The zero degree line of longitude slices down through Greenwich, dividing London into western and eastern hemispheres. As I've mentioned before, it's a totally arbitrary line, lying here only because Britain's navy was quite important at the time the decision was made. Altogether there are 180 lines of longitude around the Earth, spaced out approximately every 70 miles around the equator. Up here in southern England those lines are only about 45 miles apart as they head up towards the poles where all lines of longitude eventually meet. However, none of the 179 horizontal lines of latitude pass through London (51½°N 0°), the nearest two missing the capital by about 20 miles to north and south.

Scattered across the face of the planet, therefore, are a few special locations where a line of longitude exactly crosses a line of latitude. There's one such point just north of Alice Spings in the middle of Australia (23°S 134°E), while in the Caribbean another just hits land on the island of St Lucia (14°N 61°W) . A group of scientists have catalogued all 64,442 of these so-called confluences, and have set up a project to try to visit all of them. Well, those of them that are on land (or just offshore) which makes 24,429 altogether. Almost all of these confluences are randomly located in the middle of fields, forests or deserts, and are therefore surprisingly hard to reach on foot. Armed with satellite tracking devices, various people have set off to visit these remote locations, take photographs and write about what they found there. So far 2773 spots have been visited, and all the reports compiled on the Degree Confluence Project website. It makes a fascinating read, or map, if you like that sort of thing.

There are 6 confluences around London, only one of which hasn't been visited yet (and for good reason).
52°N 1°W, beside the River Great Ouse in a field just outside Buckingham.
52°N 0°, in a field south of Royston in the northeast corner of Hertfordshire.
52°N 1°E, in a field close to the A12 near East Bergholt in the Stour valley.
51°N 1°W, in a cowshed on a farm west of Petersfield in Hampshire.
51°N 0°, beside the River Ouse at the edge of a field to the east of Haywards Heath.
51°N 1°E (unvisited), less than a mile off the beach at St Mary's Bay near Dymchurch in Kent.

Wherever you are in the world, apparently there's always at least one confluence point within 50 miles of your location. I wonder if anyone's been there yet?

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