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So I've been doing a lot of searching and haven't found exactly what I'm looking for. My math skills are a bit rusty, so I haven't had luck deriving this on my own.

What I'm looking for is an equation (or set of equations) where I can plug in starting and ending spherical coordinates, plus a percentage (ie [0,1]) and output spherical coordinates of some point in between (ie, progress along a great circle).

The idea is basically to chart the progress of a plane between two cities and draw it on a globe or map.


  • lat1,lon1
  • lat2,lon2
  • r (radius)
  • p (progress, from 0->1)


  • lat_x,lon_x (point in-between)
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See this question for some ideas. Once you figure out the initial compass direction Clairaut's relation probably also helps. –  Jyrki Lahtonen May 6 '13 at 19:52
I appreciate the suggestion. What I'm really looking for is an equation already derived that I can plug numbers into. Haven't had a luck deriving anything on my own... –  Robert C May 6 '13 at 21:27

2 Answers 2

Ok, so I found what I was looking for at Ed Williams' awesome Aviation Formulary:

Given (lat1,lon1), (lat2,lon2), and progress fraction f=[0,1]

d = acos(sin(lat1) * sin(lat2) + cos(lat1) * cos(lat2) * cos(lon1 - lon2))
A = sin((1 - f) * d) / sin(d)
B = sin(f * d) / sin(d)
x = A * cos(lat1) * cos(lon1) + B * cos(lat2) * cos(lon2)
y = A * cos(lat1) * sin(lon1) + B * cos(lat2) * sin(lon2)
z = A * sin(lat1) + B * sin(lat2)

lat_f = atan2(z, sqrt(x^2 + y^2))
lon_f = atan2(y,x)

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Perhaps the most succinct and easiest answer (from http://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=3732362&postcount=5):

"You are given two points u and v on the unit sphere. Think of them as position vectors u⃗ and v⃗ . It is easy enough to calculate cross products. Calculate w⃗ =(u⃗ ×v⃗ )×u⃗ . Then w⃗ and u⃗ are unit vectors perpendicular to each other and in the plane of the circle. So a parameterization of the circle is R⃗ (t)=u⃗ cost+w⃗ sint"

Correction: w is only a unit vector if u and v are perpendicular.

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