azimuth, in astronomy, one coordinate in the altazimuth coordinate system. It is the angular distance of a body measured westward along the celestial horizon from the observer's south point.

Two coordinates describing the position of an object above Earth in a coordinate system called the altazimuth, or horizon, system, and used in astronomy, gunnery, navigation, surveying, and other fields. Altitude in this sense is expressed as angle of elevation (up to 90°) above the horizon. Azimuth, in astronomical measurement, is the number of degrees clockwise from due north to the point on the horizon directly below the object.

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Azimuth is a mathematical concept defined as the angle, usually measured in degrees (°), between a reference plane and a point. This concept is used in many practical applications including navigation, astronomy, mapping, mining and artillery. The word azimuth is derived from the Arabic السمت ('as-sumūt') which means the ways, referring to the ways or directions a person faces.


In navigation, the reference plane is typically true north and is considered 0° azimuth. Moving clockwise, a point due east would have an azimuth of 90°, south 180°, and west 270°. Some navigation systems use south as the reference plane. However, any direction can serve as the plane of reference, as long as it is clearly defined for everyone using that system.

True north-based azimuths

From North
North 0° or 360°

South 180°
North-Northeast 22.5°

South-Southwest 202.5°
Northeast 45°

Southwest 225°
East-Northeast 67.5°

West-Southwest 247.5°
East 90°

West 270°
East-Southeast 112.5°

West-Northwest 292.5°
Southeast 135°

Northwest 315°
South-Southeast 157.5°

North-Northwest 337.5°


There are a wide variety of azimuthal map projections. They all have the property that directions (the azimuths) from a central point are preserved. Some navigation systems use south as the reference plane like in the Philippine practice. However, any direction can serve as the plane of reference, as long as it is clearly defined for everyone using that system.


Azimuth is often, some consider incorrectly, referred to as a bearing. However, in modern astronomy azimuth is nearly always measured from the north. In former times, it was common to refer to azimuth from the south, as it was then zero at the same time the hour angle of a star was zero. This assumes, however, that the star (upper) culminates in the south, which is only true for most stars in the Northern Hemisphere.

Other uses

Azimuth is used to determine headings or the direction in which to fly. In artillery, it is the direction of fire.

Azimuth is also terms used in mining for a similar, but slightly different angle: azimuths and meridian angles are used to name any angle measured clockwise from any meridian.

For tape and cassette tape decks, azimuth refers to the angle between the tape head(s) and tape. For magnetic tape drives, azimuth refers to the angle between the tape head(s)

In sound localization experiments and literature, the azimuth refers to the angle the sound source makes compared to the imaginary straight line that is drawn from within the head through the area between the eyes.

An azimuth thruster in shipbuilding is a propeller that can be rotated horizontally.

Other systems

Right Ascension

If instead of measuring from and along the horizon the angles are measured from and along the celestial equator, the angles are called right ascension if referenced to the Vernal Equinox, or hour angle if referenced to the Prime Meridian.

Horizontal coordinate

In the horizontal coordinate system, used in celestial navigation and satellite dish installation, azimuth is one of the two coordinates. The other is altitude, sometimes called elevation above the horizon. See also: Sat finder.

Polar coordinate

In three-dimensional polar coordinate systems, including cylindrical coordinates and spherical coordinates, the azimuth of a point is the angle between the positive x-axis and the projection of the vector onto the xy-plane (the component of the vector in the xy-plane). In cylindrical coordinates, phi phi is almost universally used to represent the azimuth in mathematical applications, whereas physical applications may denote the azimuth using the symbol phi, phi. Although there are several conventions in spherical coordinates, the azimuth is usually denoted by either theta, theta or phi, phi. elec 4503

See also

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