Prime meridian

A prime meridian is an arbitrary meridian (a line of longitude) in a geographic coordinate system at which longitude is defined to be 0°. Together, a prime meridian and its anti-meridian (the 180th meridian in a 360°-system) form a great circle. This great circle divides a spheroid, like the Earth, into two hemispheres: the Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere (for an east-west notational system). For Earth's prime meridian, various conventions have been used or advocated in different regions throughout history.[1] The Earth's current international standard prime meridian is the IERS Reference Meridian. It is derived, but differs slightly, from the Greenwich Meridian, the previous standard.[2]

Gerardus Mercator in his Atlas Cosmographicae (1595) used a prime meridian somewhere close to 25°W, passing just to the west of Santa Maria Island in the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean. His 180th meridian runs along the Strait of Anián (Bering Strait)
Modern IERS Reference Meridian on Earth

A prime meridian for a planetary body not tidally locked (or at least not in synchronous rotation) is entirely arbitrary, unlike an equator, which is determined by the axis of rotation. However, for celestial objects that are tidally locked (more specifically, synchronous), their prime meridians are determined by the face always inward of the orbit (a planet facing its star, or a moon facing its planet), just as equators are determined by rotation.

Longitudes for the Earth and Moon are measured from their prime meridian (at 0°) to 180° east and west. For all other Solar System bodies, longitude is measured from 0° (their prime meridian) to 360°. West longitudes are used if the rotation of the body is prograde (or 'direct', like Earth), meaning that its direction of rotation is the same as that of its orbit. East longitudes are used if the rotation is retrograde.[3]


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