Stereographic projection in cartography

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Stereographic projection of the world north of 30degS. 15deg graticule. Stereographic projection SW.JPG
Stereographic projection of the world north of 30°S. 15° graticule.
The stereographic projection with Tissot's indicatrix of deformation. Stereographic with Tissot's Indicatrices of Distortion.svg
The stereographic projection with Tissot's indicatrix of deformation.

The stereographic projection, also known as the planisphere projection or the azimuthal conformal projection, is a conformal map projection whose use dates back to antiquity. Like the orthographic projection and gnomonic projection, the stereographic projection is an azimuthal projection, and when on a sphere, also a perspective projection.


On an ellipsoid, the perspective definition of the stereographic projection is not conformal, and adjustments must be made to preserve its azimuthal and conformal properties. The universal polar stereographic coordinate system uses one such ellipsoidal implementation.


World map made by Rumold Mercator in 1587, using two equatorial aspects of the stereographic projection. Mercator World Map.jpg
World map made by Rumold Mercator in 1587, using two equatorial aspects of the stereographic projection.

The stereographic projection was likely known in its polar aspect to the ancient Egyptians, though its invention is often credited to Hipparchus, who was the first Greek to use it. Its oblique aspect was used by Greek Mathematician Theon of Alexandria in the fourth century, and its equatorial aspect was used by Arab astronomer Al-Zarkali in the eleventh century. The earliest written description of it is Ptolemy's Planisphaerium , which calls it the "planisphere projection".

The stereographic projection was exclusively used for star charts until 1507, when Walther Ludd of St. Dié, Lorraine created the first known instance of a stereographic projection of the Earth's surface. Its popularity in cartography increased after Rumold Mercator used its equatorial aspect for his 1595 atlas. [1] It subsequently saw frequent use throughout the seventeenth century with its equatorial aspect being used for maps of the Eastern and Western hemispheres. [2]

In 1695, Edmond Halley, motivated by his interest in star charts, published the first mathematical proof that this map is conformal. [3] He used the recently established tools of calculus, invented by his friend Isaac Newton.


The spherical form of the stereographic projection is usually expressed in polar coordinates:

where is the radius of the sphere, and and are the latitude and longitude, respectively.

The sphere is normally chosen to model the Earth when the extent of the mapped region exceeds a few hundred kilometers in length in both dimensions. For maps of smaller regions, an ellipsoidal model must be chosen if greater accuracy is required. [1]

The ellipsoidal form of the polar ellipsoidal projection uses conformal latitude. There are various forms of transverse or oblique stereographic projections of ellipsoids. One method uses double projection via a conformal sphere, while other methods do not.

Examples of transverse or oblique stereographic projections include the Miller Oblated Stereographic [4] and the Roussilhe oblique stereographic projection. [2]


As an azimuthal projection, the stereographic projection faithfully represents the relative directions of all great circles passing through its center point. As a conformal projection, it faithfully represents angles everywhere. In addition, in its spherical form, the stereographic projection is the only map projection that renders all small circles as circles.

3D illustration of the geometric construction of the stereographic projection. Stereographic projection in 3D.svg
3D illustration of the geometric construction of the stereographic projection.

The spherical form of the stereographic projection is equivalent to a perspective projection where the point of perspective is on the point on the globe opposite the center point of the map.

Because the expression for diverges as approaches , the stereographic projection is infinitely large, and showing the South Pole is impossible. However, it is possible to show points arbitrarily close to the South Pole as long as the boundaries of the map are extended far enough. [1]

Derived projections

The parallels on the Gall stereographic projection are distributed with the same spacing as those on the central meridian of the transverse stereographic projection.

The GS50 projection is formed by mapping the oblique stereographic projection to the complex plane and then transforming points on it via a tenth-order polynomial.

Comparison azimuthal projections.svg
Comparison of the stereographic projection and some azimuthal projections centred on 90° N at the same scale, ordered by projection altitude in Earth radii. (click for detail)

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In geography, latitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the north–south position of a point on the Earth's surface. Latitude is an angle which ranges from 0° at the Equator to 90° at the poles. Lines of constant latitude, or parallels, run east–west as circles parallel to the equator. Latitude is used together with longitude to specify the precise location of features on the surface of the Earth. On its own, the term latitude should be taken to be the geodetic latitude as defined below. Briefly, geodetic latitude at a point is the angle formed by the vector perpendicular to the ellipsoidal surface from that point, and the equatorial plane. Also defined are six auxiliary latitudes which are used in special applications.

Mercator projection Map projection for navigational use that distorts areas far from the equator

The Mercator projection is a cylindrical map projection presented by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. It became the standard map projection for navigation because of its unique property of representing any course of constant bearing as a straight segment. Such a course, known as a rhumb or, mathematically, a loxodrome, is preferred by navigators because the ship can sail in a constant compass direction to reach its destination, eliminating difficult and error-prone course corrections. Linear scale is constant on the Mercator in every direction around any point, thus preserving the angles and the shapes of small objects and fulfilling the conditions of a conformal map projection. As a side effect, the Mercator projection inflates the size of objects away from the equator. This inflation starts infinitesimally, but accelerates with latitude to become infinite at the poles. So, for example, landmasses such as Greenland and Antarctica appear far larger than they actually are relative to landmasses near the equator, such as Central Africa.

Spherical coordinate system 3-dimensional coordinate system

In mathematics, a spherical coordinate system is a coordinate system for three-dimensional space where the position of a point is specified by three numbers: the radial distance of that point from a fixed origin, its polar angle measured from a fixed zenith direction, and the azimuthal angle of its orthogonal projection on a reference plane that passes through the origin and is orthogonal to the zenith, measured from a fixed reference direction on that plane. It can be seen as the three-dimensional version of the polar coordinate system.

Geographic coordinate system Coordinate system

A geographic coordinate system is a coordinate system that enables every location on Earth to be specified by a set of numbers, letters or symbols. The coordinates are often chosen such that one of the numbers represents a vertical position and two or three of the numbers represent a horizontal position; alternatively, a geographic position may be expressed in a combined three-dimensional Cartesian vector. A common choice of coordinates is latitude, longitude and elevation. To specify a location on a plane requires a map projection.

Map projection Systematic representation of the surface of a sphere or ellipsoid onto a plane

A map projection is a way to flatten a globe's surface into a plane in order to make a map. This requires a systematic transformation of the latitudes and longitudes of locations from the surface of the globe into locations on a plane. All projections of a sphere on a plane necessarily distort the surface in some way and to some extent. Depending on the purpose of the map, some distortions are acceptable and others are not; therefore, different map projections exist in order to preserve some properties of the sphere-like body at the expense of other properties. Every distinct map projection distorts in a distinct way, by definition. The study of map projections is the characterization of these distortions. There is no limit to the number of possible map projections. Projections are a subject of several pure mathematical fields, including differential geometry, projective geometry, and manifolds. However, "map projection" refers specifically to a cartographic projection.

Stereographic projection particular mapping that projects a sphere onto a plane

In geometry, the stereographic projection is a particular mapping (function) that projects a sphere onto a plane. The projection is defined on the entire sphere, except at one point: the projection point. Where it is defined, the mapping is smooth and bijective. It is conformal, meaning that it preserves angles at which curves meet. It is neither isometric nor area-preserving: that is, it preserves neither distances nor the areas of figures.

Earth radius mean distance from the Earths center to its surface

Earth radius is the distance from the center of Earth to a point on its surface. Its value ranges from 6,378 km (3,963 mi) at the equator to 6,357 km (3,950 mi) at a pole. Earth radius is a term of art in astronomy and geophysics and a unit of measurement in both. It is symbolized as R in astronomy. In other contexts, it is denoted or sometimes .

Rhumb line arc crossing all meridians of longitude at the same angle

In navigation, a rhumb line, rhumb, or loxodrome is an arc crossing all meridians of longitude at the same angle, that is, a path with constant bearing as measured relative to true or magnetic north.

Transverse Mercator projection The transverse Mercator projection is the transverse aspect of the standard (or Normal) Mercator projection

The transverse Mercator map projection is an adaptation of the standard Mercator projection. The transverse version is widely used in national and international mapping systems around the world, including the UTM. When paired with a suitable geodetic datum, the transverse Mercator delivers high accuracy in zones less than a few degrees in east-west extent.

Orthographic projection in cartography map projection of cartography

The use of orthographic projection in cartography dates back to antiquity. Like the stereographic projection and gnomonic projection, orthographic projection is a perspective projection, in which the sphere is projected onto a tangent plane or secant plane. The point of perspective for the orthographic projection is at infinite distance. It depicts a hemisphere of the globe as it appears from outer space, where the horizon is a great circle. The shapes and areas are distorted, particularly near the edges.

Azimuthal equidistant projection azimuthal map projection

The azimuthal equidistant projection is an azimuthal map projection. It has the useful properties that all points on the map are at proportionally correct distances from the center point, and that all points on the map are at the correct azimuth (direction) from the center point. A useful application for this type of projection is a polar projection which shows all meridians as straight, with distances from the pole represented correctly. The flag of the United Nations contains an example of a polar azimuthal equidistant projection.

Scale (map) Ratio of distance on a map to the corresponding distance on the ground

The scale of a map is the ratio of a distance on the map to the corresponding distance on the ground. This simple concept is complicated by the curvature of the Earth's surface, which forces scale to vary across a map. Because of this variation, the concept of scale becomes meaningful in two distinct ways.

Equirectangular projection map projection that maps meridians and parallels to vertical and horizontal straight lines, respectively, producing a rectangular grid

The equirectangular projection is a simple map projection attributed to Marinus of Tyre, who Ptolemy claims invented the projection about AD 100. The projection maps meridians to vertical straight lines of constant spacing, and circles of latitude to horizontal straight lines of constant spacing. The projection is neither equal area nor conformal. Because of the distortions introduced by this projection, it has little use in navigation or cadastral mapping and finds its main use in thematic mapping. In particular, the plate carrée has become a standard for global raster datasets, such as Celestia and NASA World Wind, because of the particularly simple relationship between the position of an image pixel on the map and its corresponding geographic location on Earth.

Tissots indicatrix

In cartography, a Tissot's indicatrix is a mathematical contrivance presented by French mathematician Nicolas Auguste Tissot in 1859 and 1871 in order to characterize local distortions due to map projection. It is the geometry that results from projecting a circle of infinitesimal radius from a curved geometric model, such as a globe, onto a map. Tissot proved that the resulting diagram is an ellipse whose axes indicate the two principal directions along which scale is maximal and minimal at that point on the map.

Space-oblique Mercator projection map projection

Space-oblique Mercator projection is a map projection devised in the 1970s for preparing maps from Earth-survey satellite data. It is a generalization of the oblique Mercator projection that incorporates the time evolution of a given satellite ground track to optimize its representation on the map. The oblique Mercator projection, on the other hand, optimizes for a given geodesic.

Hammer projection map projection

The Hammer projection is an equal-area map projection described by Ernst Hammer in 1892. Using the same 2:1 elliptical outer shape as the Mollweide projection, Hammer intended to reduce distortion in the regions of the outer meridians, where it is extreme in the Mollweide.

Cassini projection map projection

The Cassini projection is a map projection described by César-François Cassini de Thury in 1745. It is the transverse aspect of the equirectangular projection, in that the globe is first rotated so the central meridian becomes the "equator", and then the normal equirectangular projection is applied. Considering the earth as a sphere, the projection is composed of the operations:

In cartography, a conformal map projection is one in which every angle between two curves that cross each other on Earth is preserved in the image of the projection, i.e. the projection is a conformal map in the mathematical sense. For example, if two roads cross each other at a 39° angle, then their images on a map with a conformal projection cross at a 39° angle.

Cylindrical equal-area projection

In cartography, the cylindrical equal-area projection is a family of cylindrical, equal-area map projections.

Gall stereographic projection Cylindrical map projection

The Gall stereographic projection, presented by James Gall in 1855, is a cylindrical projection. It is neither equal-area nor conformal but instead tries to balance the distortion inherent in any projection.


  1. 1 2 3 Snyder, John P. 1987. "Map Projections---A Working Manual". Professional Paper. United States Geological Survey. 1395: 154--163. ISBN   0-226-76746-9.
  2. 1 2 Snyder, John P. (1993). Flattening the Earth: Two Thousand Years of Map Projections p.~169. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN   0-226-76746-9.
  3. Timothy Feeman. 2002. "Portraits of the Earth: A Mathematician Looks at Maps". American Mathematical Society.
  4. Sprinsky, William H.; Snyder, John P. (1986). "The Miller Oblated Stereographic Projection for Africa, Europe, Asia and Australasia". The American Cartographer. 13 (3): 253–261. doi:10.1559/152304086783899908.