Last weekend we hopped on the $0.25 bus from Quito and headed to the middle of the world.
By great luck, we arrived at the equator at exactly noon, when we had almost no shadows! There is a big monument and a yellow line where all the tourists take pictures.
However hidden behind a long wall, there is the “real” equator. This time it is a red line. Here there is a museum of Ecuadorian culture made up of winding stone paths and surrounded by a beautiful assortment of plants and cacti. You can take a guided tour and do some experiments like balancing an egg on a nail, and seeing water swirl down a drain on either side of the equator.
The Really Real Equator
Now… the really real 0°0’0″ equator is about 7 to 10 arc-seconds to the north, where a volleyball game is played by some Ecuadorians who think we are funny and stupid tourists for wandering on to their yard.
One man claimed the line went through his house. Another woman said “no, it is over here”, and they drew a little cross in the sand. I had my iPhone GPS compass and it started to go haywire. The compass stopped working and the GPS started reading that we were going further south as we walked north. So the closest I saw was 2 arc-seconds, before it started jumping erratically.
Personally, I conclude that the volleyball net is the real equator.
Call it cynical if you will. I call it amusing and fascinating. The “science experiments” at the red-line equator are pretty much all fake. They say that if you stand on the line you can feel gravity pulling from both sides, and so you can’t walk in a straight line.
First of all, gravity does not work that way! Otherwise you would drop a stone and it would go flying sideways depending on how right or left you were standing. Secondly, they have you test this by spreading your arms, closing your eyes and walking the line.
I don’t know anyone that can do that at any latitude. Maybe some Cirque De Soleil performers?
The demonstration of the Coriolis Effect is faked by letting the water in a large pan settle while the tour guide speaks for a couple of minutes. The water then pours straight down. Then when demonstrating on either side of the line, she will pour the water along the curved corner edge of the basin and then immediately pull the plug, causing the water to swirl before the plug is even pulled.
(Our tour guide messed up and poured on the same side both times, causing the water to swirl the same direction.)
Now before you get offended and say “but the Coriolis effect is real!”, I agree, It is real. But it isn’t a force that is large enough to affect sinks and toilets.
Don’t believe it? Check out my sciency references: The spinning of the Earth is no match for the force of fluid dynamics