Planar projections project map data onto a flat surface touching the globe. A planar projection is also known as an azimuthal projection or a zenithal projection.
This type of projection is usually tangent to the globe at one point but may be secant also. The point of contact may be the North Pole, the South Pole, a point on the equator, or any point in between. This point specifies the aspect and is the focus of the projection. The focus is identified by a central longitude and a central latitude. Possible aspects are polar, equatorial, and oblique.
Polar aspects are the simplest form. Parallels of latitude are concentric circles centered on the pole, and meridians are straight lines that intersect with their true angles of orientation at the pole. In other aspects, planar projections will have graticular angles of 90 degrees at the focus. Directions from the focus are accurate.
Great circles passing through the focus are represented by straight lines; thus the shortest distance from the center to any other point on the map is a straight line. Patterns of area and shape distortion are circular about the focus. For this reason, azimuthal projections accommodate circular regions better than rectangular regions. Planar projections are used most often to map polar regions.
Some planar projections view surface data from a specific point in space. The point of view determines how the spherical data is projected onto the flat surface. The perspective from which all locations are viewed varies between the different azimuthal projections. The perspective point may be the center of the earth, a surface point directly opposite from the focus, or a point external to the globe, as if seen from a satellite or another planet.
Azimuthal projections are classified in part by the focus and, if applicable, by the perspective point. The gnomonic projection views the surface data from the center of the earth, whereas the stereographic projection views it from pole to pole. The orthographic projection views the earth from an infinite point, as if from deep space. Note how the differences in perspective determine the amount of distortion toward the equator.
- View an illustration of projections with polar aspects but different perspectives.
- Learn more about the gnomonic projection.
- Learn more about the orthographic projection.