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Reference ellipsoid

In geodesy, a reference ellipsoid is a mathematically-defined surface that approximates the geoid, the truer figure of the Earth, or other planetary body. Because of their relative simplicity, reference ellipsoids are used as a preferred surface on which geodetic networkcomputations are performed and point coordinates such as latitude, longitude, andelevation are defined.

Ellipsoid parameters
In !"# Isaac $ewton published the %rincipia in which he included a proof& '&not in citation given' that a rotating self-gravitating fluid body in e(uilibrium takes the form of an oblate ellipsoid of revolution which he termed an oblate spheroid. )urrent practice *+, +-&+' &.' uses the word /ellipsoid/ alone in preference to the full term /oblate ellipsoid of revolution/ or the older term /oblate spheroid/. In the rare instances *some asteroids and planets- where a more general ellipsoid shape is re(uired as a model the term used is triaxial *or scalene- ellipsoid. 0 great many ellipsoids have been used with various si1es and centres but modern *post 2%3ellipsoids are centred at the actual center of mass of the Earth or body being modeled. 4he shape of an *oblate- ellipsoid *of revolution- is determined by the shape parameters of that ellipse which generates the ellipsoid when it is rotated about its minor axis. 4he semi-ma5or axis of the ellipse, a, is identified as the e(uatorial radius of the ellipsoid6 thesemi-minor axis of the ellipse, b, is identified with the polar distances *from the centre-. 4hese two lengths completely specify the shape of the ellipsoid but in practice geodesy publications classify reference ellipsoids by giving the semima5or axis and the inverseflattening, 1/f, 4he flattening, f, is simply a measure of how much the symmetry axis is compressed relative to the e(uatorial radius6

7or the Earth, is around 8.,, corresponding to a difference of the ma5or and minor semi-axes of approximately + km. 3ome precise values are given in the table below and also in 7igure of the Earth. 7or comparison, Earth/s 9oon is even less elliptical, with a flattening of less than 8"+:, while ;upiter is visibly oblate at about 8 : and one of 3aturn/s triaxial moons, 4elesto, is nearly 8. to 8+. 0 great many other parameters are used in geodesy but they can all be related to one or two of the set a, b and f. 4hey are listed inellipse.

Coordinates
0 primary use of reference ellipsoids is to serve as a basis for a coordinate system of latitude *north8south-, longitude *east8west-, andelevation *height-. 7or this purpose it is necessary to identify a zero meridian, which for Earth is usually the %rime 9eridian. 7or other bodies a fixed surface feature is usually referenced, which for 9ars is the meridian passing through the crater 0iry-,. It is possible for many different coordinate systems to be defined upon the same reference ellipsoid. 4he longitude measures the rotational angle between the 1ero meridian and the measured point. By convention for the Earth, 9oon, and 3un it is expressed as degrees ranging from < ",= to > ",= 7or other bodies a range of ,= to .!,= is used. 4he latitude measures how close to the poles or e(uator a point is along a meridian, and is represented as angle from <?,= to >?,=, where ,= is the e(uator. 4he common or geodetic latitude is the angle between the e(uatorial plane and a line that is normal to the reference ellipsoid. @epending on the flattening, it may be slightly different from the geocentric (geographic) latitude, which is the angle between the e(uatorial plane and a line from the center of the ellipsoid. 7or non-Earth bodies the terms planetographic andplanetocentric are used instead. 4he coordinates of a geodetic point are customarily stated as geodetic latitude and longitude, i.e., the direction in space of the geodetic normal containing the point, and the height h of the point over the reference ellipsoid. 3ee 2eodetic system for more detail.

Historical Earth ellipsoids


)urrently the most common reference ellipsoid used, and that used in the context of the 2lobal %ositioning 3ystem, is the one defined by A23 "B.

4raditional reference ellipsoids or geodetic datums are defined regionally and therefore non-geocentric, e.g., E@:,. 9odern geodetic datums are established with the aid of 2%3 and will therefore be geocentric, e.g., A23 "B. 4he following table lists some of the most common ellipsoids6 Inverse flattening,

Name

Equatorial axis (m) Polar axis (m)

0iry ".,

! .## :!..B

! .:! +:!.?

+??..+B ?#: .

)larke "!!

! .#" +,!.B

! .:! :".."

+?B.?#" !?" +

Bessel "B

! .## .?#. ::

! .:! ,#".?!:

+??. :+ "B. B

International ?+B ! .#" .""

! .:! ?

.?

+?#

Crasovsky ?B,

! .#" +B:

! .:! "!.

+?".+?? #."

2R3 ?",

! .#" .#

! .:! #:+.. B

+?".+:# +++ ,

A23 ?"B

! .#" .#

! .:! #:+.. B+ +?".+:# ++. :!.

3phere *!.# km- ! .# ,,,

! .# ,,,

Ellipsoids for other planetary odies


Reference ellipsoids are also useful for geodetic mapping of other planetary bodies including planets, their satellites, asteroids and comet nuclei. 3ome well observed bodies such as the 9oon and 9ars now have (uite precise reference ellipsoids. 7or rigid-surface nearly-spherical bodies, which includes all the rocky planets and many moons, ellipsoids are defined in terms of the axis of rotation and the mean surface height excluding any atmosphere. 9ars is actually egg shaped, where its north and south polar radii differ by approximately ! km, however this difference is small enough that the average polar radius is used to define its ellipsoid. 4he Earth/s 9oon is effectively spherical, having no bulge at its e(uator. Ahere possible a fixed observable surface feature is used when defining a reference meridian. 7or gaseous planets like ;upiter, an effective surface for an ellipsoid is chosen as the e(ual-pressure boundary of one bar. 3ince they have no permanent observable features the choices of prime meridians are made according to mathematical rules. 3mall moons, asteroids, and comet nuclei fre(uently have irregular shapes. 7or some of these, such as ;upiter/s Io, a scalene *triaxial- ellipsoid is a better fit than the oblate spheroid. 7or highly irregular bodies the concept of a reference ellipsoid may have no useful value, so sometimes a spherical reference is used instead and points identified by planetocentric latitude and longitude. Even that can be problematic for non-convex bodies, such as Eros, in that latitude and longitude don/t always uni(uely identify a single surface location.