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 Social Studies

Latitude and Longitude - A Mapping Tool
By Cynthia Kirkeby
Jan 8, 2004, 00:52 PST

What are latitude and longitude and why should I care?

Any spot on the Earth can be described with just two numbers; its latitude and its longitude. This is what allows ship and airline pilots to pinpoint their locations as they travel. If you enjoy hiking or skiing, it is also the magical numbers that will allow rescuers to find you with a GPS (global positioning system) device if you were to get lost or caught in an avalanche.

So how does it work?
Each set of numbers list the degree of arc of the Earth (each number is actually representing an angle) there are three parts to each set of numbers: degrees, minutes, and seconds. By filling in these numbers you can pinpoint any location on the face of the earth. It’s really pretty cool!

To read a great explanation on latitude and longitude please visit Latitude and Longitude by Dr. David P. Stern.

The great people at Maptech have allowed us to set up this map tool for you to use on your projects.

1. Put in the name of a place (like your hometown) then select your state.
You will see a list of places they have available as maps.
2. Choose one and you will see a topography map of the area.
3. If you move your mouse across the map, you will see the latitude and
longitude measurements change in the boxes at the bottom of the page.

With this tool you can pinpoint the actual latitude and longitude of your school, your house, the neighborhood mall, or something more historical like a national monument or a waterfall in a national park.

Watch our Social Studies section for some special projects and activities using this tool. Have fun exploring the world of maps!