A walk on prime meridian

    14-Jun-2020
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Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh
One thing that attracted me most while in England was the Prime Meridian. While I was young I fancied walking on the zero meridian one day and here, I am in London for quite some time now but the problem was that there was lockdown for so many days and I could not move out from my apartment. But then, the condition of covid in London improved substantially. It was remarkable achievement for the people and government of UK that from a serious situation, one of the worse one can say, they have come out successfully. Their mantra I feel was the strict discipline about social distancing. And I was lucky that public transport has opened to common people (though lockdown was still on). So, I took the risk of making a trip to the Prime Meridian to walk on it. Everybody knows that the Prime Meridian is taken at Greenwich, a village near London.
The trip to Greenwich was quite educative for me, a short trip but enjoyable. From southernmost part of London from the Borough of Sutton, I had to travel to Central London and had to change the bus three times. The bus fare payment was through contact less payment, if my journey requires change of bus and if I tap the card again within an hour, they won’t charge. But my journey required change of bus five times in two hours, so I was charged two times. Same charge for any distance, half a mile or ten miles, the fare is same, one tap, they charge one and a half pounds that is all, one of the best public transport system, one can say. I won’t bore you with other details, so from central London I went to the other side of Thames and went to Waterloo station. Waterloo station is one of the landmarks of the city of London built to commemorate victory of England over France under Napoleon Bonaparte. It was also in honour of the Duke of Wellington who was the commander in chief of the battle of waterloo in 1815 (actual waterloo is in mainland Europe near Belgium, by then a part of United Kingdom of Netherlands) that ended the rise of Napoleon. The first battle France lost was the battle of Trafalgar where Admiral Nelson defeated combined navy of France and Spain and established Britain’s naval supremacy. So, the battle of waterloo ushered in the important historical phase known as Pax Britannica. From waterloo, I could get the bus to the village of Greenwich.
Greenwich is most important geographical reference point. In our geography lessons we have heard enough of it and GMT, the Greenwich Mean Time. So, it could be one of the most famous village in the world. Of course with the expansion of London, it has become a borough of London. It is about an hours journey by bus from waterloo station near Thames. Greenwich (pronounced Greenich) is also birthplace of the many of the royalties of Tudor dynasty. The name is a Saxon name meaning Green Village. The adjoining village of Black heath is a place where the Roman road from Dover passes through and ruins of a Roman temple is still situated there. In the yonder, a few low green hillocks are visible giving a perfect backdrop of a beautiful landscape. Greenwich also has a huge maritime museum and the famous Ship museum Cutty Sark restored in 19th Century (it was still closed due to corona pandemic that day) like Vasa Museum of Stockholm. In Stockholm, I thought, it has many museums and even nicknamed as City of Museums, but then London is no less, it has many museums. The old books, old buildings, old artefacts are valued very much here, even handwritten notes are kept preserved, they are becoming priceless now. Both are beautiful cities, but another speciality of London is that here old and new are so intimately blended, even the Buckingham Palace is more than 300 years old and is in the heart of London, this is one of the secrets of London for being beautiful. Greenwich also is like that, blend of old and new.Many other attractions are also there in Greenwich but my main target was the Prime Meridian observatory and the line of Prime Meridian, the 0<” Longitude. The line from where the East and West start, the line which divides the globe in to Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Many of the houses here are of two storied buildings of olden architecture giving the village an ancient look. The Royal Greenwich Observatory itself is only a two storied small building, but it matches with the small hillock on which it stands.
Now, why the prime meridian was located at Greenwich? Actually the line of prime meridian was invented by George Airy in 1851 based at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.It was decided in the International Meridian Conference held in 1884 in Washington DC, decided in a voting among the members. As most of the maps used by the commercial ships in those days were based on this and as America has made most of the reference points based on Greenwich line backed the claim. Of course, eighteenth century was a century which belonged to England.
The meridian line has been marked on ground for visitors that is in line with that of telescope of Mr.Airy and at night the observatory displays a laser light indicating the prime meridian line. There are also lines along the prime meridian laid on line elsewhere also for the purpose of visitors. The royal observatory itself is surrounded by a huge beautiful park and hence, there are many visitors coming to the observatory from UK and abroad as well. The prime meridian at Greenwich is now reference point for all the mappings. In US also, as mentioned above, the Greenwich prime meridian is followed, but due to the irregularity in curvature and mass of earth, the WGS 84 (the world geodetic system, 1984) when harmonised accurately and in relation to core origin of coordinates, the zero meridian of WGS 84 is slightly (102 m) towards east of the Greenwich Prime Meridian. The datum of WGS 84 called universal chart datum is what the satellites and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are using at present.
Then what about sunrise and sunset on Prime Meridian? Of course the zero longitude extends all along from Polo to Pole, but let me talk about the meridian at Greenwich point. As a school student long back, we all wanted to see the sunrise and sunset at Prime Meridian, I thought of sunrise at 6 am and sunset at 6pm but it was found that due to the tilt of the earth’s axis towards the sun and curvature of earth, the sunrise is very early and sunset late.So, day break is at 4.20 am (sunrise 4.50 am) and dusk twilight at 9.50 pm (sunset 9.17 pm) thereby giving a clear daylight time of more than 17 hours. The daylight time shall increase as one proceed towards the arctic circle in summer and in winter it will be just the opposite. The nights are much longer and days very short in winter. I have seen in Sweden, on Southern side (Northern side is in Arctic Circle) day time is almost 20 hours in summer. So, here, there is a time adjustment of one hour called DST (Daylight Saving Time) which starts from last part of March and ends in last part of October every year. So, during winter time, there is no daylight saving and clock reverts to GMT which is 5 hr 30 min behind IST. In summer, with the DST, it is BST (British Summer Time, GMT+1) in London or London time and the time is only 4 hr and 30 minutes behind IST. After office hour ends at 5 pm, the people have good four hours for various activities before they go to bed, it should really be wonderful. This is the summer advantage of being at 51.5 degrees N, not of being on Zero degrees longitude. We all have heard the praises of English summers, they are simply wonderful. In winter, of course I do not envy English winter much, the four months of winter, chilly and mostly wet with slight drizzles of rain always. But then, during this period, the Cherries (Prunus), Royal Burgundy (Prunus), Chanticleer Pear (Pyrus), Magnolias, White Forsythia (Abeliophylum), Redbud traveller (Cercis), Crab Apple (Malus), Foxglove Tree, Daffodils, Camellias, they get prepared in the harsh winter for the spring fair of colours. In late winter it is a real sight when the buds try to emerge, the tips of branches and leaf axils, all start bulging, waiting the stroke of spring to burst open in to myriads of colour. Of course an English poet used to say, “if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
I would have liked to watch the laser line of the prime meridian, but sunset nowadays is very late here in London as it is summertime, the sun sets only at 9.17 pm and I had to make a long trip to my place and missed the same. I was also not sure if they would display the lights as lockdown of public places was still on and there were no staff available.Had I seen the laser line also, it could have been a bonus. Anyway, I came back happy, with a great feeling of having walked on the Prime Meridian.
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