Longitude (/ˈlɒndʒɪtjuːd/, AU and UK also /ˈlɒŋɡɪ-/) is a geographic coordinate that specifies the east–west position of a point on the surface of the Earth, or another celestial body. It is an angular measurement, usually expressed in degrees and denoted by the Greek letter lambda (λ). Meridians are semicircular lines running from pole to pole that connect points with the same longitude. The prime meridian defines 0° longitude; by convention the International Reference Meridian for the Earth passes near the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England on the island of Great Britain. Positive longitudes are east of the prime meridian, and negative ones are west.
|Lines of longitude appear vertical with varying curvature in this projection, but are actually halves of great ellipses, with identical radii at a given latitude.|
|Lines of latitude appear horizontal with varying curvature in this projection; but are actually circular with different radii. All locations with a given latitude are collectively referred to as a circle of latitude.|
|The equator divides the planet into a Northern Hemisphere and a Southern Hemisphere, and has a latitude of 0°.|
Because of the Earth's rotation, there is a close connection between longitude and time measurement. Scientifically precise local time varies with longitude: a difference of 15° longitude corresponds to a one-hour difference in local time, due to the differing position in relation to the Sun. Comparing local time to an absolute measure of time allows longitude to be determined. Depending on the era, the absolute time might be obtained from a celestial event visible from both locations, such as a lunar eclipse, or from a time signal transmitted by telegraph or radio. The principle is straightforward, but in practice finding a reliable method of determining longitude took centuries and required the effort of some of the greatest scientific minds.
A location's north–south position along a meridian is given by its latitude, which is approximately the angle between the equatorial plane and the normal from the ground at that location.
Longitude is generally given using the geodetic normal or the gravity direction. The astronomical longitude can differ slightly from the ordinary longitude because of vertical deflection, small variations in Earth's gravitational field (see astronomical latitude).