In an azimuthal projection a flat sheet of paper is tangent to the globe at one point. The point light source may be located at the globe's center (gnomonic projection), on the globe's surface directly opposite the tangent point (stereographic projection), or at some other point along the line defined by the tangent point and the center of the globe, e.g., at a point infinitely distant (orthographic projection). In all azimuthal projections, the tangent point is the central point of a circular map; all great circles passing through the central point are straight lines, and all directions from the central point are accurate. If the central point is a pole, then the meridians (great circles) radiate from that point and parallels are shown as concentric circles. The gnomonic projection has the useful property that all great circles (not just those that pass through the central point) appear as straight lines; conversely, all straight lines drawn on it are great circles. A navigator taking the shortest route between two points (always part of a great circle) can plot his course on a gnomonic projection by simply drawing a straight line between the two points.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.