Compass: point to any point on earth with an azimuthal map

Ever feel like you are the centre of the universe?

If you are, how do you know where to point to reach anyone else in the world?

There’s a map for that – the azimuthal map.

But first – what is azimuth? Imagine yourself at the centre of a circle, with zero degrees pointing north. The angle (clockwise from zero degrees) to something you see or want to reach is the azimuth. It’s used for navigation, and for astronomy to know what direction to look in. But for astronomy, you will also need the altitude (some call it elevation) so that you know how far to look up – somewhere between zero and ninety degrees. It’s also useful for figuring out how best to set up your solar panels.

But you will have to generate one just for you, based on where you are, Mr. or Miss Centre of the Universe.

That used to be a hard thing to do, before we had computers and laser printers and GPS and the Internet. You could buy one for different cities, or maybe use a sextant to figure out where you are and do a bunch of math.

Here’s an example for Scouts Canada’s Woodland Trails Camp in Stouffville, Ontario Canada.

Map generated by Woodland Trails Scout Camp is the centre of the universe.

We used to generate the map. You can find any number of web sites to do this by entering azimuthal map generator in your favourite search engine.

On most map generators, you can enter a nearby city, or, for more precision, your exact latitude and longitude, usually in the form:

44.0182, -79.3424

You may see other representations of the same numbers:

44.0182N, 79.3424W

44 1′ 5.52″N 79 20’32.64″W (minutes and seconds)

The first number, the latitude, is the degrees north of the equator. If the number is negative, then you are south of the equator. The second number is the number of longitude degrees from the prime meridian (zero degrees), located in Greenwich, UK. When the number is negative, then it’s going west from the prime meridian.

But how do I find my latitude and longitude?

There are lots of easy ways to get this.

  • Use a GPS receiver
  • Use a GPS or other location application on your smartphone or other GPS-equipped device
  • Use your favourite Internet search engine and look for latitude longitude and the name of a good Internet map site.


Beavers and Cubs

  • Find the latitude and longitude of your meeting site and each of the youths of their home
  • Generate azimuthal maps for either or both.
  • Compare the azimuthal map to other forms of world maps, like a globe, planisphere or other map
  • Have them find a  major city
  • Use a compass to have them point to that city.
  • Put up a post with signs to major locations

Scouts and Venturers

  • Find more advanced websites to calculate exact azimuth between locations – for example, between your meeting site and each youth’s home.
  • Pick a city somewhere in the world, and determine the correct orientation of a dipole antenna (perpendicular to the wire), or a directional antenna like a Yagi-Uda (pointing to the city, or 180 degrees away to go around the other side of the earth).
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