What is latitude and longitude of a location?

Latitude and longitude are basic geographic terms that determine location coordinate of any place located on earth. They are similar to a fingerprint and just like two people cannot have same fingerprint, two different geographic locations cannot ever share common coordinates.  The latitude and longitude are determined as vertical and horizontal angular distances that are measured with respect to the equator and the poles respectively. This article will give detailed information about what is latitude and longitude and how these location specifiers works.

Latitude and Longitude

Globe (Image source: morgueFile.com)


Latitudes can be defined as horizontal imaginary lines on the surface of the earth.They mark the distance of any random location with respect to equator. Since the equator is regarded as an imaginary line dividing earth into Northern and Southern Hemisphere, the latitudes are taken as any number of degrees north and south of the equator. The latitude is 0 degrees at the equator and as one moves towards the poles, the degrees keep on increasing, giving 90 degree to be the maximum measurement at the poles.


As Seen in the image above, the latitude measurements are taken keeping the earth to be a perfect circular and its flatness at the poles is overlooked so that latitude can be measured easily. The lines that define the latitude are termed as latitude lines. Multiple locations can share the same latitude coordinates but when with the longitudinal dimensions, new coordinates are generated and distinct geographic location points are attained.




Just like the latitude, longitude is also an imaginary geographic location verifying technique.  Dissimilar to the latitude, longitudes are measured in vertical movement. The longitudinal dimensions of a point are decided with respect to the North Pole and South Pole. Longitudinal dimensions are also measured keeping the earth to be a perfect sphere. The North and South Pole are connected to each other by a straight vertical line known as Prime Meridian. Like the Equator divides the earth into northern and southern hemisphere, the prime meridian can also be said to divide the earth into eastern and western hemisphere. The measurement is in degrees, where 0 degree is at the prime meridian and 90 degrees are the points at the periphery of the earth sphere. On the other side of the sphere, they complete another 90 degrees, making a total of 360 measurements. As it is clear from the image, multiple places can have same longitudinal dimensions until they are combined with latitude to give new ones.



Location coordinates

The image above shows the latitude and longitudinal spreads on the surface of earth. The whole mesh created by the longitudes and latitudes combine to form a mesh like structure. On this mesh, consider a point P located at the longitudinal line of 60 degrees and latitudinal line of 40 degrees.  These will combine to give the coordinates as P (latitude degree-direction, longitude degree- direction): P(40 degrees north, 60 degrees west).


The distance between each degree of latitude and longitude varies due to elliptical shape of the earth.  A degree in latitude measures between 68-69miles while that of longitude varies from 0 to 69miles. It is zero at the poles and gives maximum distance at the equator. The variations in the degree measures are suitable enough to track all locations precisely.  A degree can be further shrunk to a minute and second which play a vital role in locating places situated near to each other. In geographical tracking, 60 seconds are equal to a minute and 60minutes combine to form a degree. Thus, even the degree accounts for large changes in distances, seconds and minutes help in specifying the location.



The need to have such a system was realized long ago when exploration had started. It was getting difficult for sailors to find their exact location. Later on, progress was made through solar and lunar movements around the earth. As time progressed, creation of imaginary lines was proposed by Galileo in 1600s that could help in synchronizing time of all the zones.  Since then, lots of improvements have been made in this scenario and now, latitude and longitude are invincible to any map.


The latitude and longitude are used in navigation systems used in airplanes, ships and submarines.  Through these, any location can be tracked and used as reference for tracking location of the aforementioned aero and ocean vehicles.  Also, they are used in finding the direction of various popular seasonal wind and oceanic currents.