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Where GPS Begins

November 17, 2019 by Hope Douglas Harle-Mould (New York, USA)
Hope's dove, Gracie, perched on a globe

I’d like to share something funny that happened at the Greenwich Observatory­ in London. Mike, our highly knowledgeable tour guide, told us some history of the prime meridian. Mike told us that in 1675, the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, laid out England’s first prime meridian on the outside wall of the observatory. But when Edmond Halley (of Halley’s Comet fame) succeeded Flamsteed, Halley decided to lay out a new prime meridian in his own name just a few yards east of the original. Then the third Astronomer Royal set his prime meridian a few yards farther. And so it continued till 1885, when by international treaty, the world set the permanent prime meridian. This is the place where tourists can now stand with one foot in each hemisphere.

Except for one thing. Mike mentioned that when GPS was invented and longitude was programmed into worldwide computer systems—for some technical reason he couldn’t explain—the GPS prime meridian had to be fixed about 100 meters from the 1885 designation. However, museum officials refused to move the red stripe away from the historic buildings, for that’s where tours began. And that’s where the gift shop climaxed the end of the tour.

After the tour, I asked Mike how I could find the exact GPS prime meridian. He pointed a certain direction and told me to walk about 100 meters. When I asked how I’d know the precise spot, he told me it wasn’t marked but that there was a trash can there.

After carefully pacing out 100 meters, I saw straight ahead of me, ten meters farther, was the only trash can in the vicinity. I approached it with solemnity, coming closer and closer until I could read the words stamped into the thick metal in perpetuity: “Dog waste only!” And there I was, the only person there, contemplating that this is where the GPS reads 0°0' 0"—the spot that makes measuring time and space consistent across our planet—a beginning and end. And a receptacle for canine excrement. I laughed and laughed. But I also reflected and prayed as I pondered the wonders of the true Alpha and Omega of the cosmos and of our lives, the One in whom we live and move and have our being.

In the photo above, you can see my pure white dove, Gracie. She has touched the hearts of so many, and she delights and inspires people in a variety of settings. In this photo she is perched on the prime meridian on a globe I had placed on the table. She chose to land on the globe again and again, even though it is such a difficult place to perch. It’s as if she knows what the world needs more of! You can read much more about Gracie in my blog post from this past May. Here is a link to that blog post:

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