Antipodes

Antipodes is an island, or group of islands, southeast of New Zealand. The word itself, antipodes, means something that is the exact opposite of something else. The root is from the Greek or Latin, anti, opposed or against and pous, foot.

Speaking geographically, antipodes is or are two geographic places on opposite sides of the globe.

Growing up, I can remember playground discussions about what would happen if you dug straight down into the earth and came out the other side, where would you be? China, of course. I remember watching cartoons where hyperactive animated characters would dig a hole deep into the earth (for whatever reason) and sure enough they would emerge in China. Either that, or Chinese people would come out of the hole on this side of the globe.

Today, being curious, and since it’s raining heavily on the other side of my office window, I’m wondering where in the world is the antipodes of this place, the place where I’m now sitting and writing this, the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC. Where would I be if I put on my slicker, my wellies, grabbed a shovel, walked out of the office into the pouring rain to a patch of dirt alongside the Butterfly House here at the Museum and feverishly dug straight down into the earth, through the crust, the mantle, the outer core and inner core, back through the outer core and mantle on the other side, and likewise back through the crust? Here’s one way to find out.

Determine your current coordinates, the latitude (horizontal lines on globe) and longitude (vertical lines on globe) of you present location. Here in Durham that’s 35.9889 N latitude and 78.9072 W longitude.

To find the antipodal location, use your current latitude, substituting S (south) for the N (north) since your latitude would be the same as it is now, only in the southern hemisphere.

To find the longitude you have to subtract your current longitude (78.9072) from 180 (halfway around any sphere is 180 degrees, 180 – 78.9072 = 101.0928). Since we are located in the western hemisphere, you’ll have to substitute E (east) for W (west) in your longitude. So, now you have a latitude and longitude to search for Durham’s antipodes.

Lat. 35.9889 S

Long. 101.0928 E

Searching a globe, or typing the coordinates into your browser, you will find that directly opposite Durham, NC, is a bit of seascape in the Indian Ocean which is some 800 miles west by south (west by south is a tad south of due west, or just plain west, on the compass rose) of Gracetown, Western Australia, Australia (Gracetown is about 100 miles south of Perth). Not very exciting, but the antipodes has to be somewhere and since the earth’s surface is a little more than 70 percent water the chances are good our antipodes would be somewhere in the ocean. The spot on the map at 35.9889 S, 101.0928 E is about 4500 miles south of China, so no, the cartoons of my youth were way off target.

By the way, the islands mentioned at the beginning of this post were originally called the Penantipodes, which means next to antipodes (prefix from latin, paene = nearly, almost). The name has been shortened to Antipodes. The islands are the near antipodes of London England. The islands were first discovered in 1800 by the British (there is no indication that any humans had previously occupied or visited the islands).

You learn something every day.

2 responses to Antipodes

  1. Avatar
    Maureen says:

    So if I learned this calculation correctly: For the kids on the playground in Beijing China, if they dug straight down, they would come up in Bahia Blanca Argentina.

    • Greg Dodge
      Greg Dodge says:

      According to my calculations, if the kids were in central Beijing, China, say Tiananmen Square, and dug straight down, they’d end up in the province of Rio Negro about 100 miles or so southwest of Bahia Blanca, Argentina. That’s about halfway between the Rio Colorado to the north and the Rio Negro to the south. But yeah, that’s close enough.

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