Did you know that there are actually two equators? The terrestrial equator, like the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn as well as the poles, is based on the relationship between the Earth’s axis of rotation and the planet’s orbit around the sun. But there’s also something known as the celestial equator, which is an imaginary circle created by projecting the terrestrial equator into the night sky. The sun consistently hangs in the equatorial sky for 12 hours each day at the Earth’s widest part, but it passes directly over the actual line only twice each year, during the March and September equinoxes. Although many think that the equator is uniformly hot, in many areas it does experience wet and dry seasons. Biodiversity is extremely rich at the equator, particularly because half of the planet’s rain forests are concentrated in countries along the line: Brazil, Congo and Indonesia.

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It may be only an imaginary line bisecting an imaginary plane, but the equator does more than simply divide the Northern and Southern hemispheres. For starters, it’s the line of demarcation for the seasons in each hemisphere. It’s also the widest place on the planet because the Earth bulges slightly at the equator. And it’s the place with the fastest sunrises and sunsets on the planet because the sun moves perpendicularly to the horizon at the equator. But the actual length of each day is constant throughout the year, with the days appearing to last longer than nights because of a unique atmospheric refraction that happens at this latitude. In spite of its enormous importance in gravitational pull and its impact on our seasons, the actual location of the equator isn’t fixed—it typically drifts about nine meters (30 feet) every year.

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