Strange happenings on the equator
We all experience the Coriolis effect, whether watching water swirl counter-clockwise down a drain in the Northern or clockwise in the Southern Hemispheres. Big ass navy ships have to take the effect into account when they lob things the size of VW Beetles at unfortunate spots miles away.
Take into consideration the size of the earth — 24,901.55 miles (or 40,075.16 kilometers) at the equator — and you end up with a pretty big place. But you already knew that there was plenty of room to move about.
I bring this up because I was recently in Ecuador and the tour had us stopping at the outdoor equator museum. “Oh joy,” I thought. “How exciting can a You Are Here sign be?”
Turns out the equator is without a doubt the strangest damn place.
The actual line is a little anticlimactic, as shown in the picture. It’s just a four-inch red stripe. Yay! I have one foot in the North, the other in the South, and Big Jim & the Twins are hanging down on the line.
But then it got weird.
The first proof was a learning station that proved that the red line was not a mere guess but the actual equatorial line: a portable, water-filled basin straddled the line with the plugged sink hole directly in the center.
“What,” asked the guide, “do you think will happen when the plug is pulled.”
“It’ll go straight down,” I said. And so it did. Hand clap to me for remembering 6th grade science.
He then picked up the basin and moved it five feet to the North.
“Now what will happen?”
25,000 miles in circumference, I thought. That’s pretty elfin’ big. “It’ll ever so slightly circle counter-clockwise when you pull the plug.” He smiled as I smugly fell right into the trap.
He reached down and pulled the plug. Almost immediately, a full-on counter-clockwise vortex formed, as strong as any bathtub I’ve seen thousands of miles away to the North.
WTF? I thought. The Earth is freaking huge and he simply moved it five feet!
And just to seal the deal, he moved the basin five feet to the South of the painted red line and another full vortex of water was sucked down spinning the other direction.
“All right,” I thought, “the red line is the real deal.”
The next station was a stone pillar erected directly on the line. A flat area on the East and West sides had a nail each driven into a base of wood, so the head was perfectly flat over the red line.
Because there is no Coriolis effect on this spot, its pretty much the only time you can ever balance an egg standing up on the head of a nail. And with a practiced hand, the guide balanced the egg in a few seconds flat.
OK, I get that. Difficult to still do, but doable.
The next station was a physical test that anyone can do. He had me standing directly on the line with one foot in front of the other along the equatorial line.
Both arms were outstretched with thumbs pointing up. Its like being Buddy Jesus, as shown by the guy in the photo.
At that moment, the body is in equilibrium: the core is on the line while the two outstretched halves are equally in the North and South.
The task? Shut your eyes and walk the line.
I did so and lifted one foot, throwing my shoulders a little to the South. The Coriolis effect immediately tugged me off the line and I went tripping off into the Southern Hemisphere. All right, I still get that, though the effect seemed a lot stronger than I would have guessed. Still, my mind can handle that.
But it was the last test that fucked me up.
I still don’t get it. You can explain it to me in gentle words, but it’ll still be one of those great mysteries, like how a chunk of iron can float in the form of a supertanker.
This is what happened.
Both the guide and I stood about five feet to the South of the line. Standing perpendicular to the line, he had me pinch my thumb and forefinger as tight as I could. He then used both of his hands to try and pry them apart, which he almost did but couldn’t.
Then he had me clench both of my hands together and raise them above shoulder height in front of me. He then used both of his arms to try and lower them, which again he almost did but couldn’t — not without hanging from them. I was hell bent on not letting them drop.
Finally, he positioned me to stand directly on the red line, facing South. I repeated the two tasks while he stood three feet into the southern hemisphere. Sproing! My fingers came apart, and he used one arm and pulled down both of mine like he just put a coin into an old style slot machine.
I don’t get what the hell happened. I mean, seriously, why was he able to dominate my strength just mere feet away from the actual center of the Earth?!
He said something about me having no Coriolis effect and gravity being a slight bit less where I stood, so I had less leverage. Whatever it was, it didn’t make sense to my logical brain. It still doesn’t make sense.
I walked into the equator museum thinking, “Oh great, the equator” but I walked away, clapping my hands and thinking, “Mother fucking equator!”