The Middle of the World

The two weeks we spent in Ecuador gave us an opportunity to pass over the area which gave the country it’s name – the Equator.

There are a handful of countries around the world that pass through 0 degrees latitude and all of them mark the site in some way. Ecuador is the only one on our itinerary and visiting here was included as #99 on our list of Top 100 Experiences.

A monument was erected in the 1930s to recognize the spot and commemorate the 1736 French Mission that calculated the exact location of the equator for the first time. Unfortunately, the 1736 calculations were not exactly correct (off by about 240m) so the monument is not quite in the right spot. We visited the monument (actually an upgraded version built in the 1980s), the associated museum and also a second nearby museum (the Intinan Solar Museum) that also claims to be on the actual equator (they are also not). The Intinan museum features some cultural history exhibits and many of the hands on “equator experiments” that are also featured at other equator sights around the world.

The most famous of these is the demonstration of the Coriolis Force, which is responsible for making large storms spin clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere and counter-clockwise north of the equator. This same force is often cited as being responsible for making toilets flush one way in the north and the other in the lands down under. Modern-day scientists, however, disagree.

Nonetheless, these experiments (along with some other debunked demonstrations) continue to be shown to thousands of people around the world every year. The equator activities were an enjoyable day trip for us, just 26km north of Quito, and also an opportunity for some impromptu science learning.

Given the chance to view the Coriolis Effect demonstration and read the rebuttal linked above, however, both of my kids felt seeing was believing. In their own words:

Caleb: “I think the Coriolis effect is real as it actually affects major things like hurricanes and tornados. So the Coriolis effect should effect water too as it was shown at the equator in the north it spins clockwise and the south counter-clockwise and they made it very convincing so I can’t come up with anyway the could be faking it. The thing about the article is they say it is fake but don’t have any explanation of how they are faking it so they could just be lying to decrease the tourist population. To sum it up I think it is a cool experiment that is totally work showing off even if it is fake.”

Kieran: “I think the experiment was not a lie because it was explained so well and made so much sense to me. I mean yes the article makes sense, but not one goes to a museum to get lied to. Plus the Coriolis effect must be real because how could anyone fake water spinning in different directions?”

The actual demonstration we got is in the video below. My best explanation is that the illusion is all in the pouring (or lack there of). Bonus points to anyone who can convince my kids by debunking what we saw below in a more convincing way to change their minds 🙂

Until next time…

One thought on “The Middle of the World

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