Longitude (, AU and UK also ) is a geographic coordinate that specifies the eastwest position of a point on the Earth’s surface, or the surface of a celestial body. It is an angular measurement, usually expressed in degrees and denoted by the Greek letter lambda (). Meridians (lines running from pole to pole) connect points with the same longitude. The prime meridian, which passes near the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, England, is defined as 0 longitude by convention. Positive longitudes are east of the prime meridian, and negative ones are west.
Because of the Earth’s rotation, there is a close connection between longitude and time. Local time (for example from the position of the Sun) varies with longitude: a difference of 15 longitude corresponds to a one-hour difference in local time. Comparing local time to an absolute measure of time allows longitude to be determined. Depending on the era, the absolute time might be obtained from a celestial event visible from both locations, such as a lunar eclipse, or from a time signal transmitted by telegraph or radio. The principle is straightforward, but in practice finding a reliable method of determining longitude took centuries and required the effort of some of the greatest scientific minds.
A location’s northsouth position along a meridian is given by its latitude, which is approximately the angle between the local vertical and the equatorial plane.
Longitude is generally given using the geometrical or astronomical vertical. This can differ slightly from the gravitational vertical because of small variations in Earth’s gravitational field.


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by Dava Sobel