Rhumb line

From Academic Kids

Line crossing all meridians at the same angle.

A rhumb line (or loxodrome) is a path of constant bearing on a spherical (or elliptical) object. They are a traditional part of the theory of navigation.

If you follow a given (magnetic-deviation compensated) compass-bearing on Earth, you will be following a rhumb line, which spirals from one pole to the other. Near the poles, they are close to being logarithmic spirals (on a stereographic projection they are exactly, see below), so they wind round each pole an infinite number of times but reach the pole in a finite distance. The pole-to-pole length of a rhumb line is (assuming a perfect sphere) the length of the meridian divided by the cosine of the bearing away from true north.

Rhumb lines are not defined at the poles: it is hard to go south-east from the North Pole and even harder to go north-west.

Contrast with: great circle, small circle.

On a Mercator projection map, a loxodrome is a straight line; beyond the right edge of the map it continues on the left with the same slope. The full loxodrome on the full infinitely high map would consist of infinitely many line segments between these two edges.

On a stereographic projection map, a loxodrome is an equiangular spiral whose center is the North (or South) pole.

On a sphere which has coordinates φ (azimuth) and θ (latitude), the equation of a loxodrome is

<math> \phi = a \ln \left( \sec \theta + \tan \theta\right) + \phi_0<math>

or, equivalently,

<math> \phi = a \ln \left( \tan \left( {\theta \over 2} + {\pi \over 4} \right) \right) + \phi_0<math>

where a is the tangent of the bearing, and <math>\phi_0<math> is the longitude where the loxodrome passes the equator.

Finding the loxodromes between two given points can be done graphically on a Mercator map, or by solving a nonlinear system of two equations in the two unknowns a and <math>\phi_0<math>. There are infinitely many solutions; the shortest one is that which covers the actual longitude difference, i.e. does not make extra revolutions, and does not go "the wrong way around".

The distance between two points, measured along a loxodrome, is simply the absolute value of the secant of the bearing times the north-south distance (except for circles of latitude).

The word "loxodrome" comes from Greek loxos : oblique + dromos : running (from dramein : to run).

Old maps do not have grids composed of lines of latitude and longitude but instead have rhumb lines which are: directly towards the North, at a right angle from the North, or at some angle from the North which is some simple rational fraction of a right angle. These rhumb lines would be drawn so that they would converge at certain points of the map: lines going in every direction would converge at each of these points. See compass rose.

External links

James Alexander Loxodromes: A rhumb way to go (http://www.cwru.edu/artsci/math/alexander/mathtype/rhumbs.htm)pl:Loksodroma de:Loxodrome

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