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World map showing the line of the equator.

The equator is the intersection of the Earth's surface with the plane perpendicular to the Earth's axis of rotation and containing the Earth's center of mass. In simpler language, it is an imaginary line on the Earth's surface equidistant from the North Polemarker and South Polemarker that divides the Earth into a Northern Hemispheremarker and a Southern Hemispheremarker. The equators of other planets and astronomical bodies are defined analogously.

Geodesy of the equator

The latitude of the equator is 0°. The length of Earth's equator is about .

The equator is one of the five main circles of latitude that are based on the relationship between the Earth's axis of rotation and the plane of the Earth's orbit around the sun. It is the only line of latitude which is also a great circle. The imaginary circle obtained when the Earth's equator is projected onto the sky is called the celestial equator.

The Sun in its seasonal movement through the sky, passes directly over the equator twice each year, on the March and September equinoxes. At the equator, the rays of the sun are perpendicular to the surface of the earth on these dates.

Places on the equator experience the quickest rates of sunrise and sunset in the world. They are also the only places in the world where the sun can go directly from the zenith to the nadir and from the nadir to the zenith. Such places also have a theoretical constant 12 hours of day and night throughout the year (in practice there are variations of a few minutes due to the effects of atmospheric refraction and because sunrise and sunset are measured from the time the edge of the Sun's disc is on the horizon, rather than its centre). North or south of the equator day length increasingly varies with latitude and the seasons.

The Earth bulges slightly at the equator. It has an average diameter of , but at the equator the diameter is approximately greater than the polar diameter.

Locations near the equator are good sites for spaceports, such as the Guiana Space Centremarker in Kourou, French Guianamarker, as they are already moving faster than any other point on the Earth due to the Earth's rotation, and the added velocity reduces the amount of fuel needed to launch spacecraft. Spacecraft launched in this manner must launch to the east to use this effect.

For high precision work, the equator is not quite as fixed as the above discussion implies. The true equatorial plane must always be perpendicular to the Earth's spin axis. Although this axis is relatively stable, its position wanders in approximately a radius circular motion each year. Thus, the true equator moves slightly. This, however, is only important for detailed scientific studies. The effect is quite small, and the width of a line marking the equator on almost any map will be much wider than the error.

Equatorial seasons and climate

Near the equator there is little distinction between summer, winter, autumn or spring. Temperatures are high year round (permanent "summer"), with the exception of periods during the wet season and at higher altitudes. In many tropical regions people identify two seasons: wet and dry. However, most places close to the equator are wet throughout the year, and seasons can vary depending on a variety of factors including elevation and proximity to an ocean. The rainy and humid conditions mean that the equatorial climate is not the hottest in the world.

The surface of the Earth at the equator is mostly ocean. The highest point on the equator is , at 00°00′00″S, 77°59′31″W, on the south slopes of Volcán Cayambemarker (summit ) in Ecuador. This is a short distance above the snow line, and this point and its immediate vicinity form the only section of the equator where snow lies on the ground.

Equatorial countries and territories

The equator traverses the land and/or territorial waters of 14 countries. Starting at the Prime Meridian and heading eastwards, the equator passes through:

Co-ordinates Country, territory or sea Notes
Atlantic Oceanmarker Gulf of Guineamarker
Ilhéu das Rolasmarker
Atlantic Oceanmarker Gulf of Guineamarker
Lake Victoriamarker Passing through some islands of
Indian Oceanmarker Passing between Gaafu Dhaalumarker and Gnaviyanimarker atolls,
The Batu Islandsmarker, Sumatramarker and the Lingga Islandsmarker
Karimata Straitmarker
Makassar Straitmarker
Gulf of Tominimarker
Molucca Seamarker
Kayoa and Halmaheramarker islands
Halmahera Seamarker
Gebe Island
Pacific Oceanmarker Passing just north of Waigeomarker island,

> Passing just south of Aranukamarker atoll,

> Passing just south of Baker Islandmarker,
Isabela Islandmarker in the Galápagos Islandsmarker
Pacific Oceanmarker
Including some islands in the mouth of the Amazon River
Atlantic Oceanmarker

Despite its name, no part of Equatorial Guineamarker's territory lies on the equator. However, its island of Annobónmarker is about south of the equator, and the rest of the country lies to the north. The country that comes closest to the equator without actually touching it is Perumarker.

"Crossing the Line"

The English-speaking seafaring tradition maintains that all sailors who cross the equator during a nautical voyage must undergo rites of passage and elaborate rituals initiating them into The Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep. Those who have never "crossed the line" are derisively referred to as "pollywogs" or simply "slimy wogs". Upon entering the domain of His Royal Majesty, Neptunus Rex, all wogs are subject to various initiation rituals performed by those members of the crew who have made the journey before. Upon completion of the initiation ceremony, the wogs are then known as "trusty Shellbacks". If the crossing of the equator is done at the 180th meridian, the title of "Golden Shellback" is conferred, recognizing the simultaneous entry into the realm of the Golden Dragon. If the crossing occurs at the Greenwich or Prime Meridian, the sailor is considered to be an "Emerald Shellback".

Exact length of the equator

The equator is modeled exactly in two widely used standards as a circle of radius an integer number of meters. In 1976 the IAU standardized this radius as , subsequently refined by the IUGG to and adopted in WGS-84, though the yet more recent IAU-2000 has retained the old IAU-1976 value. In either case, the length of the equator is by definition exactly 2π times the given standard, which to the nearest millimeter is in WGS-84 and in IAU-1976 and IAU-2000.

The geographical mile is defined as one arc minute of the equator, and therefore has different values depending on which standard equator is used, namely or for respectively WGS-84 and IAU-2000, a difference of nearly a millimeter.

The earth is standardly modeled as a sphere flattened about 0.336% along its axis. This results in the equator being about 0.16% longer than a meridian (as a great circle passing through the two poles). The IUGG standard meridian is to the nearest millimeter , one arc minute of which is , explaining the SI standardization of the nautical mile as , more than short of the geographical mile.

See also


  1. Although millimeter precision can be important up to the scale of a mile, it has negligible physical significance at the scale of a geographic feature such as the equator. From a computational standpoint, however, millimeter precision or better can be valuable for maintaining consistent results when used in programs for surveying and other applications that require precise measurements. As an overly simple example, if a program were to convert back and forth between the radius and the circumference of the earth sufficiently often while maintaining precision only to a meter each time, errors might accumulate until they became noticeable.


  • (IUGG/WGS-84 data)
  • (IAU data)

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