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    Re: Sight Reduction Formula
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2003 Oct 19, 14:50 +0100

    Ralph Clampitt asked-
    >I am new to the list and have just recently started using a programmable
    >calculator for sight reductions.  I have found several useful formulae on
    >this list and in other references, however the one shown in the Nautical
    >Almanac for azimuth puzzles me.
    >Can anyone explain the formula for azimuth from the Almanac?
    >Summarizing from page 279 - 2002 Nautical Almanac
    >6. The calculated altitude and azimuth.
    >Step 1.  Calculate the local hour angle.
    >        LHA = GHA + Long.
    >Step 2.  Calculate S, C and the altitude Hc from
    >        S = sin Dec
    >        C = cos Dec cos LHA
    >Sin Hc = (S sin LAT + C cos LAT)
    >(This appears to be analogous to the fundamental cosine formula of
    >spherical trigonometry and to be the classic formula for computing
    >altitude.   Most references however seem to use [+ or abs. difference])
    >i.e. sin Hc = sin LAT * sin Dec [+ or absolute diff.] cos LAT * cos Dec *
    >cos LHA.
    >The trouble, for me, starts in using the formula for azimuth from the
    >almanac, which seems to be quite different from those most commonly shown
    >in other references, such as one that seems fairly standard
    >        Cos Z = (sin Dec  [+ or abs. diff.] sin Hc) / (cos Hc * cos Lat)
    >The Almanac formula for azimuth show in Step 3 is as follows;
    >Step 3. Calculate X and A from
    >        X= (S cos Lat - C sin LAT)/cos Hc
    >        Cos A = X
    >Determine the azimuth Z
    >If HA > 180 degrees than Z= A
    >Otherwise Z = 360 degrees - A
    >The formula than seems to be
    >Cos A = [(sin Dec * cos LAT) - (cos Dec *cos LHA * sin LAT)]/cos Hc
    >As I said, I have not seen this formula anywhere else and also I have had
    >trouble with it when Dec and Lat are opposite signs. Please understand
    >that I am not much of a mathimatician.
    >Ralph Clampitt
    Response from George-
    Welcome to the list, Ralph.
    Sorry, this isn't an answer to Ralph's specific question about the azimuth
    formula in the Nautical Almanac. It's a suggestion of a better way to do
    the job.
    One problem about getting the Az from its cos is that this becomes
    inaccurate for azimuths near to due North and South. Getting az from its
    sine is worse still, in that this is inaccurate near East-West directions,
    but also ambiguous about East and about West, and the ambiguity is hard to
    An additional difficulty with both methods above is that you need to
    calculate altitude first, whether or not the altitude was needed for the
    Why not calculate azimuth directly from its tan, instead?
    use Az = arctan ((-Sin HA) / (Cos Lat * Tan Dec - Sin Lat * Cos HA))
    Lat and dec are in the range -90 (south) through zero (equator) to +90
    (north pole).
    HA increases westwards, 0 to 360.
    Az increases clockwise from North, 0 to 360.
    (It may, on some machines, be worthwhile to trap for a zero arising in the
    With this formula, there are no regions of low precision, as there would be
    if calculating az from its sin or cos. And you can see that it requires
    only HA, lat, and dec, not a calculated altitude.
    However, the ordinary arc-tan function still has two possible results, so
    it's not yet quite clear of ambiguity.
    If you just have the standard arctan function available, without any
    facilities for rectangular-polar conversion, then a rule for unambiguously
    obtaining az is as follows-
    if tan az was negative, add 180 degrees to az.
    if LHA was less than 180 degrees, add (another) 180 degrees to az.
    Then if az exceeds 360 degrees, subtract 360.
    However, many calculators and computers make things easier by providing
    rectangular to polar conversion functions. These examine the signs of
    numerator and denominator separately.
    Many Casio calculators provide the POL (polar) function, with two inputs,
    and when you apply
    X = POL (( Cos Lat * Tan Dec - Sin Lat * Cos HA) , (- Sin HA))
    then what appears in the Y variable is a quantity between -180 and +180,
    unambiguously defining the azimuth. (Negative azimuths can have 360 added
    to put them into familiar form.)
    Some computers provide a similar function which is often labelled ATAN2, to
    distinguish it from the normal ATAN inverse tangent. The  signs of the two
    input terms must be carefully chosen, however (as they were for the POL
    example above). Rectangular to polar conversions are conventionally
    intended to produce an angle which increases anticlockwise from the x-axis,
    whereas we require an angle that increases clockwise from the y axis, so a
    bit of thoughtful tinkering may be called for.
    Using RP notation on my old HP21, still going strong after 30 years, the
    technique was to-
    Enter (-sin HA)
    work out (cos HA sin lat - cos lat tan dec)
    convert to (R, theta)
    look at theta and if negative add 360.
    When using these methods you have to be careful with the signs. For
    example, in the formula for Az, using POL, above, DON'T try to cancel out
    the negative sign in the second input term by reversing the order of the
    subtraction in the first term!
    The solution for Az, from its tan, won't be found in many navigational
    textbooks, and I think the reason is partly historical. Using this method,
    the terms involved can be positive or negative. Old navigators would avoid
    calculating with anything going negative if they possibly could, largely
    because everything relied on logs, which could only handle positive
    In general, that's why traditional formulae would use names, such as North
    or South, rather than signs, and (sum-or-difference) expressions rather
    than subtraction, to avoid handling negatives. Nowadays, we no longer use
    logs, and are more confident in manipulating negative quantities. This
    explains the difference Ralph notes, between the mathematically
    straightforward expression for altitude in the modern almanac, and the
    "classic formula" he has found in texts.
    The derivation of az from its tan is given in Jean Meeus' essential
    "Astronomical Algorithms", as eq. 13.5
    You have to be a bit careful with Meeus, however, because as an astronomer
    he measures his azimuths clockwise from the South, adding notes to that
    effect on pages 91 and 92.
    George Huxtable.
    contact George Huxtable by email at george@huxtable.u-net.com, by phone at
    01865 820222 (from outside UK, +44 1865 820222), or by mail at 1 Sandy
    Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.

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