Latitude vs. Longitude: Differences in Simple Terms

Learn what latitude vs. longitude is to get a clear understanding of what these two terms mean and what they measure. Figure out what latitude and longitude mean in a clear way through examples.

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Understanding Latitude vs. Longitude

If you’ve ever looked at a GPS, you might notice latitude and longitude. But what does that mean?

  • Latitude is the points north and south of the equator.
  • Longitude is the points east and west of the prime meridian.

Still not clear? Think of latitude and longitude as an imaginary grid placed over the world to help you find places. The equator is halfway between the North and South Poles. It’s an imaginary horizontal line that cuts the planet completely in half. Latitude lines are imaginary lines a specific degree away from the equator going to the North and South Pole.

Like the equator, the prime meridian is an imaginary vertical line that splits the world in half from the North to the South Pole. Longitude is vertical lines going from one pole to the other starting at the prime meridian.

Differences & Similarities Between Longitude vs. Latitude

Now that you know the definition of latitude and longitude, explore a few differences and similarities between these two.

Term:

latitude

longitude

Definition:

north and south of the equator

east and west of the prime meridian

Known as:

parallels

meridians

Range:

0 to 90 degrees north and south

0 to 180 degrees east and west

Distance from:

equator

prime meridian

Lines It Has on Globe:

180

360

Greek Letter:

phi

lambda

What Is Latitude?

When it comes to lines of latitude, it’s all about the equator. These parallel lines follow the line of the equator and go from the equator to the North Pole and from the equator to the South Pole at an equal distance, which is why they are called parallels. Latitude lines progressively get smaller and smaller until they get to the North Pole and the South Pole.

To see why this is, you could put parallel lines horizontally on a ball. You’ll notice that as you get closer to the top, the lines you create get smaller and smaller because the ball is thickest at the middle and gets thinner as you.

Measuring Latitude for Locations

Latitude is measured using degrees, minutes and seconds (DMS), one degree is 60 minutes and 1 minute is 60 seconds. Lines of latitude are measured in degrees from 0 to 90 degrees. As you might guess, the range is 0 at the equator and 90 at the North Pole and the South Pole. Latitude can either be negative (S) or positive (N). It can also be calculated in all positive numbers and denote N or S. Some examples of latitude include:

  • The Tropic of Cancer - 23.5 degrees N
  • The Tropic of Capricorn - 23.5 degrees S
  • The Antarctic Circle - 66.5 degrees S
  • The Arctic Circle - 66.5 degrees N
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The Meaning of Longitude

While the lines of latitude are parallel, the lines of longitude are not. Lines of longitude are similar to wedges of an orange. The lines of longitude run from one pole to the other in perfect wedges. These lines run up and down the Earth, creating the vertical lines of the grid.

Since everything has to start somewhere, lines of longitude start at the prime meridian. The prime meridian runs through Greenwich, England, and goes until it reaches the antimeridian, or International Date Line, which is halfway around the Earth.

How to Measure Longitude

Lines of longitude are measured in degrees from 0 to 180 degrees running east and west. Like latitude, longitude is measured using degrees, minutes and seconds (DMS). The prime meridian is 0 degrees, and the antimeridian or International Date Line is at 180 degrees. When you cross the Internation Date Line, the day magically changes with the west being one day ahead of the east. Longitudes are also positive (E) and negative (W) or denoted as E and W.

How to Keep Latitude and Longitude Straight

Knowing what latitude and longitude are is only half the battle. Remembering which one is which of these L words can be more difficult. When thinking of latitude think ladder. Latitude runs horizontally across the earth like the rungs of a ladder. To remember longitude, think about long. Something that is long runs vertically up and down. You can even use this fun phrase.

  • Latitude is fatter running across like a ladder.
  • Don't go wrong by remembering longitude is long.
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Latitude vs. Longitude: Places on Earth

Latitude and longitude make GPS possible. When it comes to coordinates, they are measured in latitude and longitude using degrees. GPS is needed for meteorologists to accurately measure weather. Explore more about weather by looking at common types of weather.