What is the Equator?

I have a riddle. Can you be somewhere that you cannot see? On my expedition, I was!

You may have heard that the equator is a line. It runs around the middle of the earth. This is true - but the line is imaginary. That means we imagine it is there. There are no lines, tape, walls, or signs in the ocean where the equator is! So, how do we find it? People looked at the GPS on their phones or on the ship. GPS is when you use satellites in space to find where you are on the globe. On ships, we measure how far we are from the equator. So when you are right on top of the equator, the screen says “0.” I took a picture right after we crossed the equator, very close to zero. This is the only way to know you are on the equator.

The ship went back and forth across the equator on my expedition four times. I had never crossed the equator in a ship. I have flown over it and crossed it in a plane before. We had a party when we went across it. It is special because the earth is different on different sides of the equator - in the two hemispheres. For example, when it is summer in the northern hemisphere, it is winter in the southern hemisphere. Our captain told us where the equator was, and we ran under a banner that was where it would be. You cannot see the equator. All you see is ocean!

This phone shows our location on the globe using GPS.  Photo by Alison Travis

This phone shows our location on the globe using GPS. Photo by Alison Travis

We ran under a banner that stood for the equator.  Photo by Jonathan Aguas.

We ran under a banner that stood for the equator. Photo by Jonathan Aguas.

The Galapagos Islands are on top of the equator. Some islands are north of it, and some are south of it. The weather in the Galapagos Islands does not change very much. They do not have very hot summers or very cold winters. It is warm and sunny most of the time. It gets a little warmer or a little colder at times. And at some times of the year, it rains more. A good way to think about it is that it is always like fall or spring. It was very nice weather.

The weather is mostly the same on the equator, and the days are the same length, too. We got twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night. The sun is not out for more time in the summer and less time in the winter.

There is a special thing that happens twice every year called the equinox. This is when the middle of the sun shines right on the equator. I was in the Galapagos during the equinox and something funny happens at that time. At noon, with the sun right above, my shadow disappeared!

At the equinox on the equator, your shadow disappears!  Photo by Alison Travis

At the equinox on the equator, your shadow disappears! Photo by Alison Travis

They gave me this pin on the ship to remember that I went across the equator!  Photo by Alison Travis

They gave me this pin on the ship to remember that I went across the equator! Photo by Alison Travis

Another thing that is different in the northern and southern hemisphere are the stars. A naturalist showed us new constellations in the sky at night. And guess what? The Galapagos Islands are the only place where there are penguins north of the equator! All other penguins live far south, close to or on Antarctica.

The equator helps us know a lot about our world. You may cross it one day! Where in the southern hemisphere would you like to go?