'0 Degrees' laser art by Peter Fink and Anne Bean, in Greenwich, London
© Norah Saudan/Getty Image
East meets west at the prime meridian. ‘Hello’ from zero degrees longitude
This laser projected from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich marks the prime meridian, dividing Earth’s Eastern and Western Hemispheres and helping travellers to chart their courses by establishing a universally adopted 0 degrees longitude. The meridian itself is essentially an imaginary line, arbitrarily placed. By the early 19th century, most maritime countries had established their own prime meridians to aid in navigation. But on this date in 1884, delegates from 25 nations met at a conference in Washington, DC, where they established Greenwich as the international standard for mapping and timekeeping. The decision made sense, as the Greenwich meridian was already widely used. However, France abstained from the vote and used its own prime meridian for several decades before eventually joining other countries in recognising the Greenwich meridian.