Humans figured out around 500 BC that the Earth was a sphere and therefore must have a center line dividing the halves. In South America the ancient Quechua people named that equatorial line Inti (sun) Nan (path) centuries ago. Then in 1735, the French Geodesic Mission set out for Quito to pinpoint the location.
The expedition lasted nine years, was responsible for giving Ecuador its name, and succeeded in a fairly accurate measurement.
Although it turns out they probably should have just asked the natives, since modern GPS has proved that by simply observing the sun their line was more accurate than the French scientists.
Slight discrepancies notwithstanding, we knew we were within a few feet, if not inches, of that big blue stripe we’d seen on globes since grade school. So bypassing the Mitad del Mundo complex and the old French monument, we chose The Intiñan Solar Museum and the “real” line.
But before we could get to the main attraction, we were sidetracked by a lesson on making shrunken heads… yes, they are real.
The Shuar people from high in The Andes of Ecuador performed this ritual, and now we know their secret… remove the skull, sew the eyes and mouth shut, then cook the skin for an hour or so and fill it with hot rocks.
All joking aside, this was serious business for the warriors, and obviously the victims too. Shuar feel that the muisak, or soul of the victim, is contained in the shrunken head (tsantsa). Our guide, Alexandra, explained that because of this, head shrinking became all the rage with the nobility as well.
Okay, on to the line around the center of the world which, unlike on our classroom spheres, is red here.
Several sundial type instruments and markers are setup along the stripe to show how the sun passes perfectly overhead on the equinox, and always has an equal 12 hours of day and night year ’round. Perfectly viable, accurate scientific stuff. Ah, but then came the “experiments.”
In order to demonstrate the Coriolis Effect, and our guide was very careful to specify that this was just a demonstration, a tub of water was sitting directly on the equator. Now the Coriolis Effect is without a doubt perfectly real, it has to do with the earth’s rotation and the inertia effect it has on objects. It is what causes ocean currents, wind patterns, and hurricanes to rotate one direction in the northern hemisphere and the other in the south, but this “demonstration” had exactly nothing to do with it.
When the drain plug was pulled on the tub, the water ran straight out with no spin or vortex.
Perfect, there is no Coriolis Effect on the equator. Then the tub was moved about six feet north of the line and water poured in, drain plug pulled, and viola, a vortex! Six feet south of the line, the vortex spins the opposite way. Wow! We saw it with our own eyes!
But what really happened was just a “demonstration,” and our guide was quite subtle and sneaky with her technique. The first tub was allowed to sit perfectly still long enough that the water was motionless and no vortex would form, while the others had just enough momentum left from the pouring motion to spin first one way, then the other.
Say cheeeeeese! LOVED this guy hangin’ out!
The truth is, yes there is such a thing as the Coriolis Effect, but its effect is so miniscule this close to the equator that it could never be measured, much less move a tub of water. By the way, same thing holds true with toilets.
They spin whichever direction the flow of water pushes them, no matter which side of the equator you’re flushing on. Still, we appreciated the show.
We were then challenged to walk directly along the line with our eyes closed.
No explanation was offered as to why this should be more difficult directly on the equator than anywhere else, but we did have a hard time keeping our balance. Personally I think that I’m just a klutz and can’t walk well with my eyes closed… but that’s just me.
Next came the balancing a raw egg on a nail trick, which is also supposed to demonstrate the lack of Coriolis Effect on the yolk directly on the equator.
This is also another thing that I can’t do, here or any place else on the planet I suppose.
If egg balancing is any easier at the equator than anywhere else in the world, the difference is so slight as to be nonexistent.
Bottom line, balancing an egg is difficult where ever you happen to be. Even our guide couldn’t pull it off… that said, Veronica did it!
It was so impressive that she was issued a certificate to commemorate the event. Our guide, Alexandra, made things official.
Veronica felt ever so proud of her accomplishment, especially when Alexandra stamped the back of her certificate with the much coveted “LATITUD 00, 00, 00” stamp.
The time had come for the goofy standing-in-both-hemispheres-at-once photos.
Has anyone ever come to this place and not done that?
Don’t think so.
BONUS TIME: More at The Intiñan Solar Museum
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com