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12/08/2013

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The earth is very close to being a perfect sphere, but due to its spin the equator bulges slightly, which
makes the shape an oblate spheroid.

The earth spins around an axis that astronomers can locate. This defines the north and south poles. We
will learn about the magnetic North and South Pole later. For now simply realize that the true North and
South Poles are based on the spin of the earth and are NOT the same as the Magnetic Poles.

The original definition of the metric distance unit “meter” was that the distance from the equator to the

pole is 10 million meters, i.e. 10,000 Km. Therefore the circumference of the earth is 40,000 Km measured
around the poles. Because the equator is a bit fatter, as mentioned above, the equatorial circumference is
40,076 Km.

The aviation unit of distance is the nautical mile, which is also defined in accordance with the
circumference of the earth. Every degree of latitude is by definition 60 NM, so the circumference of the
earth is 360 x 60 = 21,600 Nm, measured around the poles. The distance around the equator is an extra 41
NM.

From the above discussion you should memorize the definition of the nautical mile and take note that the
difference in circumference of the earth around the poles vs. the equator is less than .00002%. If the earth
was shrunk down to the size of a billiard ball it would be a smoother rounder billiard ball than any you will
find in a pool hall.

The earth spins around an axis that runs through the north and south poles. It spins once every 24 hours,

which defines one day. Due to the gravitational effect of the moon and sun the earth’s spin is gradually

slowing down, but it will take billions of years before it stops spinning relative to the sun. The rate of
slowing is however enough for atomic clocks, such as those in GPS satellites, to measure so they must be
resynchronized with the rotation of the earth every 1000 weeks (roughly every 20 years.) Other clocks are
synchronized just before midnight on December 31 each year making the last day of the year the longest
by a few millionths of a second. An interesting anomaly that results from this variant resynchronization is
that earth clocks and GPS clocks move out of synchronization over the 1000 week GPS cycle. A computer
program in your GPS receiver calculates the difference so that the time displayed to you is approximately

equal to earth time, and different than “GPS time.”

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