Mitad del Mundo
As its name implies, Ecuador was derived from the word “equator” because of its central position on the planet. A French mission came to Ecuador in 1736 to map the exact location of the equator. They calculated that it was located about 20 kilometers north of the center of the Ecuadorian capital of Quito. This monument called Mitad del Mundo – “The Middle of the World” – was erected to mark the “exact” location of the equator. Or so they thought…..
Here we are balancing on the equatorial line that was mapped in 1736 and which was reconfirmed by another French mission in 1899. With the advent of GPS, it was determined that the French missions miscalculated the line by 240 meters to the north!
And here we are on the “real” equatorial line as measured by the GPS. It was said that the ancient Ecuadorian tribes had always believed that this was the exact location of the middle of the world. A private museum, Intinan Solar Museum, was built along this line. The museum conducts several interactive “scientific” experiments that they said can only be done on the equator.
One of the experiments was the balancing of egg on a head of a nail. The museum claimed that the equator is the only place where you can do such balancing because of the absence of gravity along the equator. Some people did it successfully but most people didn’t.
A museum staffer was discussing the coriolis effect, which in this case was described as the force that affects the movement of water in both side of the hemisphere. It was explained that the water swirl clockwise south of the equator and counterclockwise north of the equator.
She then conducted an experiment to demonstrate that the corialis effect can in fact be observed from just within few feet of the equator. A sink was place right on the equator and the water went straight down the drain without any vortex. The sink was moved few feet to the southern hemisphere and the water whirled into clockwise direction. Then the sink was moved few feet to the northern hemisphere and the water circled into counterclockwise direction. There’s the corialis effect! Or was it?
Curious, we did some research when we got home. Here are some of our findings:
“..the Coriolis force is quite small, and its effects generally become noticeable only for motions occurring over large distances and long periods of time, such as large-scale movement of air in the atmosphere or water in the ocean.” – Wikipedia
“The corialis effect produces measurable effect over huge distances and long periods of time, neither of which applies to your bathroom. Toilets and sinks drain in the direction they do because of the way the water is directed into them or pulled from them.” – from snopes.com/science
So was the sink experiment staged?
Another scientific claim was that if you walk on the equitorial line with your eyes close you would have a difficulty wallking in a straight line because of lack of gravity. But isn’t it hard to walk in a straight line anywhere if your eyes are closed?
The museum guide was demonstrating here that she could control the arms of the much larger person because one’s muscle lose much of its resistance on the equator. Another scientific claim was that a person loses a pound when standing on the equator.
The experiments were cheesy and hokey but they were fun. Anyway, there are also interesting cultural stuff that you can see and do at the Inti Nan Museum.
Be amazed or be shocked at the exhibit of the “shrunken heads.” In the olden days, the barbaric tribes shrank the heads of the enemies they killed and show them off as battle trophies. Barbaric indeed.
Is the Equator and the museum worth visiting? If you have half a day to kill while in Quito, we say why not? It is easy to reach from Quito by cab, bus or you may join a bus tour and the entrance fee to the museum is quite inexpensive ($2). And beside, it’s fun to say that you have straddled the two equatorial lines – both the inaccurate one with the real monument and the accurate one with the inaccurate science.