Sea-farers, including Magellan and Columbus, used their knowledge of latitudes to navigate the globe.
Latitudes are imaginary lines that run from west to east, ranging from zero to 90 degrees. Another imaginary line on the globe that divides it into two equal parts at zero degree latitude is called the equator. The equator divides the earth into the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. The North and South Poles are at 90 degrees from the equator.
The distance from the equator to the poles is 1/4th of the circle around the earth. Each latitude is followed by the letter N or S, for North and South respectively. The letter N or S with a latitude indicates whether it is located in the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere. Places at different locations may have the same latitude, but may be north or south of the equator.
Apart from the equator, other important parallels of latitude are:
- Tropic of Cancer, which is located 23 ½ degrees North,
- Tropic of Capricorn, which is located 23 ½ degrees South,
- Arctic Circle, which is located 66 ½ degrees North and
- Antarctic Circle, which is located 66 ½ degrees, South.
Features of Latitudes:
- The lines of Latitudes are parallel to each other and are called Parallels of Latitudes.
- These lines become shorter towards the Poles and end at two points, the North and the South Pole.
Parallels of Latitudes also determine the climatic zones of the world. The temperature decreases gradually from the equator towards the poles.
The angle of the sun’s rays on the surface of the earth increases as we go away from the equator. This is the reason the intensity of the sun’s rays decreases with an increase in latitude.
The areas between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn receive the maximum heat. The belt between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn is called the Torrid Zone.
Between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle in the Northern Hemisphere and between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle in the Southern Hemisphere, one will find temperate weather, i.e. moderate temperatures. These areas with temperate weather are called Temperate Zones.
In the areas between the Arctic Circle and the North Pole and between the Antarctic Circle and the South Pole, the sun’s rays have a huge slant. This makes these areas freezing cold and hence they are called the Frigid Zones.
It is relatively easier to determine the latitude at a particular place by using celestial bodies and their movements as reference points. In the Northern Hemisphere, the altitude of the Pole Star is always the same as the latitude of a place.