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Antipodes is a geographical terms used to describe to places on Earth that can be connected by a straight line that runs through the Earth. Technically, the definition is ‘the point on the Earth’s surface which is diametrically opposite to it.’.
The term was introduced by Anaximander, then used by the likes of Aristotle and Plutarch to refer to opposite points of an Earth that was suspended in the cosmos, but during the Middle Ages it came to mean people who lived on the opposite side of the Earth. The antipodes were used as an argument for a spherical Earth. The medieval dispute surrounding the antipodes mainly concerned the question whether people could live on the opposite side of the Earth since it was believed that the climate was inhospitable to human habitation. Despite great resistance by others of his time, the notion of dry, hospitable land was first introduced by Ptolemy. There was even an ‘imaginary’ continent placed on European maps as early as the 15th century.
Most of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, so the antipodes of most land locations are in the waters of an ocean. Antipodes are not an Earth-only notion. Every point on every celestial body has an antipode on the same body. Here are some celestial antipodes: Mare Orientale and Mare Marginis(Moon), and Argyre Planitia and Utopia Planitia(Mars). Here are a few antipodes of interest here on Earth: Madrid and Wellington, Cherbourg and the Antipodes Islands, Pago Pago and Zinder, Doha and Pitcairn Island, Kuala Lumpur and Cuenca, San Juan and Karratha, Limerick and Campbell Islands, and Bangkok and Lima.
The antipodes of any place on Earth are distant by 180° of longitude and 180° to the north or south of the equator, so the latitudes are equal but opposite in direction. Noon for one is midnight for the other. Midwinter is midsummer, etc. Just for fun, why not take out a map and try to find the antipodes of your location?
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about planet Earth. Listen here, Episode 51: Earth.