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Middle of the World

In the 18th century, a major debate was taking place in the scientific community, especially in the French Academy of Sciences, as to whether the circumference of the Earth was greater around the Equator or around the poles. French astronomer Jacques Cassini held to the view that the polar circumference was greater. Louis XV, the King of France and the Academy sent two expeditions to determine the answer: one was sent to Lapland, close to the Arctic Circle, under Swedish physicist Anders Celsius and French mathematician Pierre Maupertuis. The other mission was sent to Ecuador, at the Equator. The equatorial mission was led by French astronomers Charles Marie de La Condamine, Pierre Bouguer, Louis Godin and Spanish geographers Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa. In Ecuador, they split into two groups, traveling overland through rain forests, arriving in Quito in June 1736. They completed their survey measurements by 1739, measuring the length of a meridian arc of three degrees at the Equator.