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Homework Help: Linear Speed of Earth at latitude 40° N

  1. Nov 21, 2013 #1
    1. The problem statement, all variables and given/known data
    a) What is the angular speed ω about the polar axis of a point on Earth's surface at latitude 40° N? (Earth rotates about that axis.) I solved this part

    b) What is the linear speed v of the point?

    2. Relevant equations

    v = ωr where r = radius of Earth at latitude 40°N

    3. The attempt at a solution

    I found out that r = Rcos(40°) (where R = radius of Earth) but I'm failing to understand why. How am I supposed to know to use cos(40°)? Is it a component of some sort? Where does it come from?

    If the problem said longitude 40° E or W, would I then use sin(40°)? Also would I have to know to put a negative sign depending on N, S, E, W?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 21, 2013 #2
    Think about a circle of latitude. It is also known as a parallel. The circle of latitude 0, the equator, has the radius equal to that of the Earth. As the latitudes go up (Northbound or Southbound), their circles become smaller, eventually becoming just points at the poles.

    Now, the question is, what is the radius of the parallel at a latitude between the equator and the pole? The truth is, it is complicated. But frequently we can assume the Earth is a perfect sphere.

    Refer to the attached diagram. It depicts the intersection of the spherical Earth with a plane perpendicular to the plane of the equator. NS is the polar axis. The equator is represented by EW, the circle of latitude is by E'W'. Obviously, CE = CW = the radius of the Earth. C'E' = C'W' = the radius of the circle of latitude.

    Attached Files:

  4. Nov 21, 2013 #3
    Wow, great explanation! Thanks so much. I wanted to ask if someone could draw a picture describing what's going on but thought that might be too much. Yet, you did it on your own.
  5. Nov 21, 2013 #4
    Well, there was a certain Mr. Lagrange, who wrote a book - a very important book! - on mechanics without a single drawing. It was very hard to read. His students did not understand him, either, perhaps because he had the same trait while lecturing. That shows that no amount of mathematical talent and eloquence can't substitute a good drawing. When I realized just how lengthy and bizarre a text-only explanation would be, spending a few minutes on drawing seemed like a major win :)
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