Earth ellipsoid

Shape of planet Earth / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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An Earth ellipsoid or Earth spheroid is a mathematical figure approximating the Earth's form, used as a reference frame for computations in geodesy, astronomy, and the geosciences. Various different ellipsoids have been used as approximations.

A scale diagram of the oblateness of the 2003 IERS reference ellipsoid. The outer edge of the dark blue line is an ellipse with the same eccentricity as that of Earth, with north at the top. For comparison, the light blue circle within has a diameter equal to the ellipse's minor axis. The red line represents the Karman line 100 km (62 mi) above sea level, while the yellow area denotes the altitude range of the ISS in low Earth orbit.

It is a spheroid (an ellipsoid of revolution) whose minor axis (shorter diameter), which connects the geographical North Pole and South Pole, is approximately aligned with the Earth's axis of rotation. The ellipsoid is defined by the equatorial axis (a) and the polar axis (b); their radial difference is slightly more than 21 km, or 0.335% of a (which is not quite 6,400 km).

Many methods exist for determination of the axes of an Earth ellipsoid, ranging from meridian arcs up to modern satellite geodesy or the analysis and interconnection of continental geodetic networks. Amongst the different set of data used in national surveys are several of special importance: the Bessel ellipsoid of 1841, the international Hayford ellipsoid of 1924, and (for GPS positioning) the WGS84 ellipsoid.