A coordinate system is a method for identifying the location of a point on the earth. Most coordinate systems use two numbers, a coordinate, to identify the location of a point. Each of these numbers indicates the distance between the point and some fixed reference point, called the origin. The first number, known as the X value, indicates how far left or right the point is from the origin. The second number, known as the Y value, indicates how far above or below the point is from the origin. The origin has a coordinate of 0, 0.
Longitude and latitude are a special kind of coordinate system, called a spherical coordinate system, since they identify points on a sphere or globe. However, there are hundreds of other coordinate systems used in different places around the world to identify locations on the earth. All of these coordinate systems place a grid of vertical and horizontal lines over a flat map of a portion of the earth.
A complete definition of a coordinate system requires the following:
- The projection that is used to draw the earth on a flat map
- The location of the origin
- The units that are used to measure the distance from the origin