Did you know that the 180th meridian navigates the entire surface of the Earth from the North Pole to the South Pole? It exists 180° East and 180° West of the Prime Meridian.
Starting at the North Pole and heading south to the South Pole, the 180th meridian passes through Arctic Ocean, Russia, Chukchi Sea, Bering Sea, Amchitka Pass (east of Alaska), Tuvalu, Cikobia Island, Fiji, and Antarctica.
However, the only place where roads cross this meridian, and civilization exists, is in Fiji.
Photo by Paul Lenz shared under CC BY 2.5 license
The 180th meridian is used as the basis for the International Date Line (IDL) because for the most part, it passes through the open waters of the Pacific Ocean without much international water disputes or boundaries.
International Date Line
In reality, the International Date Line (IDL) does not exist. It is an imaginary line roughly based on the meridian of 180° longitude. I would love to go to Fiji and change my day by just taking a step.
If you cross the date line moving east, you subtract a day, whereas if you are moving west you add a day. For example, if today is Friday and we crossed the International Date Line from west to east then it would be Thursday.
When you cross the date line, you sort of become a time traveler! Cross to the west and it’s one day later; cross back and you’ve “gone back in time.”
Look at the man standing in the center of the past and future (pictured above). This is almost mind-tripping. At one moment you could be in the present and yet another moment you could be still living in the yesterday. How cool!
Around the World in Eighty Days
The concept behind the International Date Line was used as a plot device in Jules Verne’s novel “Around the World in Eighty Days” published in 1873.
Original book cover
The book’s main protagonist, Phileas Fogg, travels eastward around the world. He had bet with his friends that he could do it in 80 days. To win the wager, Fogg must return by 8:45 pm on Saturday, 21 December 1872.
However, the journey suffers a series of delays and when Fogg reaches London, it’s 8:50 pm on Friday, 20 December, although he believes it’s Saturday, 21 December and that he has lost the wager by a margin of just 5 minutes.
The next day, however, it is revealed that the present day is still Saturday, not Sunday, and Fogg arrives at his club just in time to win the bet.
In journeying eastward Phileas Fogg had gone towards the sun, and the days, therefore, diminished for him as many times four minutes as he crossed degrees in this direction.
There are 360 degrees on the circumference of the earth; and these 360 degrees, multiplied by 4 minutes, give precisely 24 hours — that is, a full day unconsciously gained.
In other words, while Phileas Fogg, going eastward, saw the sun pass the meridian eighty times, his friends in London only saw it pass the meridian seventy-nine times.
Fogg had thought it was one day more than it actually was, because he had forgotten this simple fact. During his journey, he had added a full day to his clock, at the rhythm of an hour per 15 degrees, or 4 minutes per degree.
So what do you think? Would you like to explore the 180th meridian and make it in some sort of trip idea or bucket list? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.