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Thursday, 1 March 2012

Measuring latitude using a pendulum

Question: is it possible to determine the latitude using a pendulum?
Yes. Use the Foucault's pendulum

At either the North Pole or South Pole, the plane of oscillation of a pendulum remains fixed relative to the distant masses of the universe while Earth rotates underneath it, taking one sidereal day to complete a rotation. So, relative to Earth, the plane of oscillation of a pendulum at the North Pole undergoes a full clockwise rotation during one day; a pendulum at the South Pole rotates counterclockwise.
When a Foucault pendulum is suspended at the equator, the plane of oscillation remains fixed relative to Earth. At other latitudes, the plane of oscillation precesses relative to Earth, but slower than at the pole; the angular speed, ω (measured in clockwise degrees per sidereal day), is proportional to the sine of the latitude, φ:

\omega=360\sin\varphi\ ^\circ/day

where latitudes north and south of the equator are defined as positive and negative, respectively. For example, a Foucault pendulum at 30° south latitude, viewed from above by an earthbound observer, rotates counterclockwise 360° in two days.