Friday, August 26, 2011

The French Equator or The Other Middle of the Earth

A favorite view of the monument. There is a wonderful museum inside that gives information about different ethnic groups in Ecuador. There is much more to do and see here and I hope to get back soon and do more.

Charles Marie de La Condamine. He spent 10 years in and around Ecuador, his was the first scientific exploration of the Amazon River, he kept a detailed journal of his discoveries and observations. The publication of his journal sparked the interest of other Europeans and led to many other explorers, including Alexander von Humboldt, to come to this area. He was the first westerner to see a rubber tree. He studied the Cinchona tree from which quinine, an anti malarial drug, is made. He described the curare arrow poison prepared by the indians.

Pierce Bouguer

Louis Godin

Closer view of the globe on top of the monument, notice that the equator line is on it´s side, it lines up with the equator line drawn on the ground below.

Just to be sure I have actually had a foot in both hemasphiers at the same time.

A view from the top of the monument. From here the Solar Museum (GPS equator) can be seen. The scientists from France who identified this site were not to far off considering the insterments they had, but the early natives of the area seemed to have a better knowledge of exactly where the equator was.

In many pictures of Ecuador you will see this trapezoidal monument topped by a brass globe.

As I´ve said before there are two equators, well in reality there is only one, but in Ecuador there are at least two areas identified to be the equator. It seems that in 1735 there was a significant debate in France as to whether the circumference of the earth was greater around the equator or around the poles. So, two expeditions were sent out by Louis XV, King of France, one to Lapland, close to the North Pole, and the other to Ecuador, at the equator. Each team was to take measurement of the earths arcs. The measurements from these expeditions were compared to measurements taken in Paris previously. This was known as a Geodesic expedition, and if you ever want to do an interesting report for school, just google this. Pierre Bouguer, Charles Marie de La Condamine and Louis Godin measured arcs of the Earth´s curvature on the equator from the plains near Quito to the southern city of Cuenca. These measurements enabled the first accurate determination of the size of the Earth, eventually leading to the establishment of the international metric system of measurement. So this area that we visited is the site where during the 1700´s, the famous French expedition established the position of the equatorial divide on their mission to Ecuador to determine the shape of the earth. Just a note of interest, these Frenchmen proved that the earth bulges in the middle (like so many of us), and is flattened at the poles.

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