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What is the Prime Meridian?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The prime meridian is the vertical line that marks the 0° longitude measurement on the globe of Earth. The line intersects the latitude lines that are horizontal. Not every globe has the same prime meridian measurement, but most measure it as a line that passes through England, France, Spain, Togo, and down to Antarctica.

Unlike latitude measurements, any longitude line begins at the North Pole and ends at the South Pole. Latitudinal measurements combined with longitudinal measurements can help a person locate a specific place on a map. They are of particular use in air trafficking, and in determining shipping locations.

Longitude measurements are also a way to evaluate time. Each space between a longitude measurement represents approximately one hour’s time. If someone was to travel from the prime meridian to the next longitude line, which advances 15°, there would be a difference of approximately one hour in terms of measurements by the sun. Time differences may or may not be accounted for, depending upon the country.

There has been some debate about where the prime meridian properly belongs. Currently, the measurement is based on a decision made in 1884, which was greatly influenced by shipping lines that already had marked the location. All such measurements are arbitrary, and theoretically, the prime meridian could be anywhere on the globe. Cooperation is needed, however, so international systems use a single longitude line as the source for giving appropriate directions and for determining such things as flight paths or shipping lines.

Some people confuse the prime meridian with the international dateline. This line is in fact directly opposite on a globe. The international dateline has a measurement of 180° and passes roughly through the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Earth is not the only planet with a prime meridian. In fact, scientists have created such a line on both the moon and on Mars. These lines are again arbitrary, and should humans ever make use of these planets, they might change according to the needs of the people using them for map making and information.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a CulturalWorld.org contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon343890 — On Aug 03, 2013

What exactly is the prime meridian? Please someone break it down for me.

By Mary Ann Mischke — On Sep 22, 2010

Does anyone know where I can get a digital file (shapefile format) of the US Meridians? Preferably free.

By anon104369 — On Aug 16, 2010

It's not a set thing.

By anon46439 — On Sep 25, 2009

the prime meridian goes over land and water. the equator and prime meridian meet just below africa on water. The prime meridian passes through greenwich, England. The U.S. is east of the meridian.

By anon42926 — On Aug 24, 2009

the united states is east or west of the prime meridian?

By anon28523 — On Mar 18, 2009

what has Greenwich have to do with the prime meridian?

By anon27076 — On Feb 23, 2009

i have homework on this. where do the equator and prime meridian meet, on land or on water?

By anon22642 — On Dec 07, 2008

prime meridian was created by ptolemy.

By anon18291 — On Sep 18, 2008

who made the prime meridian?

By dfrum32 — On Sep 16, 2008

How is it useful if not every globe has the same prime meridian marking? I thought that the prime meridian was a set thing that was the same on all globes.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a CulturalWorld.org contributor, Tricia...
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