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Egging the Equator

Benjamin Radford is a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and author or coauthor of nine books, including Bad Clowns.

Q: I’ve heard that there are some special science tricks you can accomplish only at the equator, including balancing an egg on its end. Is that true?

—M. Favaro

A: On a recent trip to Ecua dor, I spent a week at a jungle lodge near the borders of Colombia and Peru. The only access is by boat on the Napo River, one of the major tributaries of the Amazon. The protected preserve is home to several Indian tribes, and eco-tourism is popular; the days are filled with jungle hikes, kayaking, and watching monkeys, birds, and river dolphins.

Among the touristy things to do in Ecuador—a country named for its geographical location—is visit the equator. In the dozen or so countries though which the equator passes, a small but significant commercial industry has emerged associated with it, including equator tours, T-shirts, and hats (an impressive feat for an imaginary line). There are several claims about interesting or unusual natural phenomena said to happen only at the equator. Perhaps the most famous is that water goes down a drain in opposite directions above and below the equator due to the Coriolis Effect. Though this nugget of curiosa appears in many trivia books, it is dubious. While it is true that given a large enough body of water and a perfectly symmetrical basin and drain spout the water would empty in different directions, as a practical matter the curve of the container has a far greater influence on which way water drains (Bobick and Balaban 2003, 6).

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