What is the international date line?

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Google Earth view of globe showing international date line

The international date line, shown here as a yellow line, defines the boundary between calendar dates.

The international date line, established in 1884, passes through the mid-Pacific Ocean and roughly follows a 180 degrees longitude north-south line on the Earth. It is located halfway around the world from the prime meridian — the 0 degrees longitude line in Greenwich, England.

The international date line functions as a “line of demarcation” separating two consecutive calendar dates. When you cross the date line, you become a time traveler of sorts! Cross to the west and it’s one day later; cross back and you’ve “gone back in time.”

Despite its name, the international date line has no legal international status and countries are free to choose the dates that they observe. While the date line generally runs north to south from pole to pole, it zigzags around political borders such as eastern Russia and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

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