Figure of The Earth

The expression figure of the Earth has various meanings in geodesy according to the way it is used and the precision with which the Earth's size and shape is to be defined. The actual topographic surface is most apparent with its variety of land forms and water areas. This is, in fact, the surface on which actual Earth measurements are made. It is not suitable, however, for exact mathematical computations, because the formulas which would be required to take the irregularities into account would necessitate a prohibitive amount of computations. The topographic surface is generally the concern of topographers and hydrographers.

The Pythagorean concept of a spherical Earth offers a simple surface which is mathematically easy to deal with. Many astronomical and navigational computations use it as a surface representing the Earth. While the sphere is a close approximation of the true figure of the Earth and satisfactory for many purposes, to the geodesists interested in the measurement of long distances—spanning continents and oceans—a more exact figure is necessary. Closer approximations range from modelling the shape of the entire Earth as an oblate spheroid or an oblate ellipsoid, to the use of spherical harmonics or local approximations in terms of local reference ellipsoids. The idea of a planar or flat surface for Earth, however, is still acceptable for surveys of small areas, as local topography is more important than the curvature. Plane-table surveys are made for relatively small areas, and no account is taken of the curvature of the Earth. A survey of a city would likely be computed as though the Earth were a plane surface the size of the city. For such small areas, exact positions can be determined relative to each other without considering the size and shape of the total Earth.

In the mid- to late- 20th century, research across the geosciences contributed to drastic improvements in the accuracy of the Figure of the Earth. The primary utility (and the motivation for funding, mainly from the military) of this improved accuracy was to provide geographical and gravitational data for the inertial guidance systems of ballistic missiles. This funding also drove the expansion of geoscientific disciplines, fostering the creation and growth of various geoscience departments at many universities.

Read more about Figure Of The Earth:  Ellipsoid of Revolution, Historical Earth Ellipsoids, More Complicated Figures, Geoid, Volume

Other articles related to "figure of the earth":

Figure Of The Earth - Volume
... Earth's volume is approximately 1,083,210,000,000 km3 (2.5988×1011 cu mi). ...

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