Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Some latitude for error?

Richard Hoagland has stated many, many times that the latitude 19.5° N or S has special properties. It is the latitude of three of the vertices of a tetrahedron inscribed in a sphere when the fourth vertex is placed at one of the poles, and according to Hoagland "hyperdimensional energy" is manifest at these latitudes.

Hoagland is also quite addicted to stating that features are at that latitude when in fact they are not. The Great Red Spot of Jupiter and Olympus Mons on Mars are two examples. On Earth, there is but one genuine example — the massive volcano Mauna Loa, exactly at 19.5° N.

Last night (25/26 January 2010) on Coast To Coast AM Richard Hoagland stated that Port-au-Prince, site of the recent devastating earthquake, is at 19.5 degrees. In actual fact the exact coordinates of the epicenter are 18°30'N, 72°38'W. A caller to the show pointed this simple fact out and, after some pause for thought, Hoagland retorted "I was thinking of geodetic latitude — not geographic — the latitudes change because the Earth is not a perfect sphere, it's an oblate spheroid."

Well, OK. That has some superficial logic. The geometry he suggests would obviously assume a perfect sphere, and indeed our planet is not that. George Noory let it slide by, as he always does.

Here, however, are the problems with that statement.

- Latitudes as commonly cited are geodetic. The other form of latitude is geocentric.
- A geocentric latitude is always less than its geodetic equivalent.

Here's the deal. A geocentric latitude is based on the imaginary radial line connecting a point on the Earth's surface to the exact center of the Earth. A geodetic latitude is based on a pseudo-radial line which is the extension of the local vertical. This image (taken from this wikipedia article) is an exaggerated depiction of a point whose geodetic latitude is 66° and geocentric 60°.

Now, conversion from one to the other is not a simple matter. The difference at this latitude is something like seven minutes of arc. But we can say for sure that neither the geocentric nor geodetic latitude of Port-au-Prince is 19.5°. This was almost certainly a deliberate lie by Hoagland, which he knew he would get away with because of George Noory's ignorance of mathematics.

If it were true, by the way, that 18°30' converts to some "real" 19.5°, Hoagland would lose the one shining example of "hyper-dimensional energy" that he claims. The 18°30' latitude does not pass through Mauna Loa. In fact it misses Hawaii completely. It also misses Popacatapetl. It misses everything that could conceivably validate Hoagland's ridiculous proposition.

Should we allow Hoagland some latitude for error? I say no — he's just a liar.