Why Is the Tropic of Capricorn Important?

In 1939, author Henry Miller wrote a semiautobiographical novel that created a whole lot of controversy. The book in question? “Tropic of Capricorn,” which was banned in the United States until 1961 because of its explicit sexual content. The novel chronicles the protagonist’s life, including a job at the “Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company of North America,” which you can suspect influenced the book’s title. But “Tropic of Capricorn” has roots outside the literary world and in the stars.

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What Is the Tropic of Capricorn?

Otherwise known as the Southern tropic, the Tropic of Capricorn is one of five major circles of latitude that you’ll find on a map or globe. These latitudes are the imaginary east-west circles that indicate positions on Earth, when coupled with lines of longitude, which are imaginary circles intersecting the North and South poles and equator.

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Southern Hemisphere and Northern Hemisphere Lines of Latitude

The Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer were delineated because they are both places within the hemispheres where it’s possible for the sun to be directly overhead. For ancient travelers who used the heavens to guide their way, these were crucial demarcation lines. That’s why the Tropic of Capricorn is important.

The five major lines of latitude mark specific points on Earth:

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The equator is probably the most well-known circle of latitude, and it’s situated at zero degrees latitude. It has a circumference of about 25,000 miles (40,233 kilometers), and it divides the planet into the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The latitudes of other circles are determined by their distance north or south of the equator.

The Arctic Circle is located at approximately 66.5 degrees north latitude, or 66.5 degrees north of the equator.

The Antarctic Circle is located at approximately 66.5 degrees south latitude, or 66.5 degrees south of the equator.

The Tropic of Cancer is located at approximately 23.5 degrees north latitude, or 23.5 degrees north of the equator.

That brings us to No. 5: The Tropic of Capricorn. Located at approximately 23.5 degrees south latitude, or 23.5 degrees south of the equator, this circle marks the southernmost point on Earth where the sun is directly overhead at noon. To be even more specific, it marks where the sun is overhead at noon around December 21, which marks the beginning of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

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The Winter Solstice(December Solstice)

So why the astrological reference? The lines of latitude were named a long time ago — about 2,000 years ago, to be exact. When the Tropic of Capricorn was named, the sun happened to be in the constellation Capricorn during the December solstice (centuries later, the sun no longer sits in that constellation at that time of year). The “tropics” reference is also important because they’re the places on Earth where it’s actually possible for the sun to sit directly overhead.

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The Tropic of Capricorn goes through these countries: Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, French Polynesia, Australia, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

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