GPS coordinates are incredibly important in everyday life but few people know exactly what they are and how they work. In this guide we shall look at some general information on GPS coordinates to help give you a better understanding of them.
What is GPS?
GPS stands for Global Positioning System – a series of U.S. based global navigation satellites situated in space. Using signals provided from these satellites users are able to determine reliable positioning, navigation and timing data at all times of the day.
GPS coordinates are decoded by a wide variety of devices including mobile phones, in car navigation systems and GPS locaters. So how do they work? We shall look at this in more detail below.
How do GPS Coordinates work?
The world geodetic system comprises a standard coordinate frame for the Earth as well as a standard spheroidal reference surface to form altitude data and gravitational equipotential surface data that defines sea level.
These sets of coordinates together can pinpoint a specific location on the Earth. GPS coordinates are used in cartography, navigation and geodesy.
There are currently 27 satellites (24 active and 3 backups) circumnavigating the Earth 24/7 that create the GPS network. They send microwave signals at the speed of light to communication points.
GPS coordinates are read by specific devices that decode them. Generally for an accurate reading a GPS device requires signal from four different satellites – however in some cases fewer will suffice. We shall look at some of those devices and other uses for GPS coordinates below.
Latitude and Longitude
The two most important factors affecting GPS coordinates are latitude and longitude measurements. Latitude gives the location of a place on Earth north or south of the equator. Whereas longitude is a set of imaginary lines running north to south at 1 degree intervals converging at the north and south poles.
Lines that join points of the same latitude are called parallels and trace concentric circles on the surface of the Earth – all running parallel to the Equator.
Using latitude and longitude measurements provides an exact coordinate that can pinpoint a location or object. These are not the most accurate of coordinates – as they can only get so specific. However they are very useful in locating destinations on a global and national scale – but not so good on a very localized scale.
What can GPS Coordinates be used for?
The military have been using GPS coordinates for many years to help locate people, targets, set navigation and to establish meeting place. GPS can also be used in search and rescue missions, missile and projectile guidance and reconnaissance and map creation.
The GPS satellites in space also carry a set of nuclear detonation detectors which are a major part of the United States Nuclear Detonation Detection System.
However in recent years GPS coordinates are being used by people in all sorts of situations – both in the workplace and for personal use.
In the car, GPS coordinates are used to help drivers find the fastest and easiest route to their chosen destination using a GPS Navigation device. These are becoming extremely popular and are very accurate.
Hikers and explorers won’t leave home without a GPS device – and knowing their coordinates at all times is extremely important in helping them to reach their destination as well as ensuring they don’t get lead astray.
It is now very normal for mobile phones to have some sort of GPS coordinate device. In fact they have been around since the early 1990’s but have only recently taken off on a large scale. Not only can the GPS capability on cell phones be used in a similar way to in-car navigation, but they are used for tracking a person during an emergency situation.
Many major phone networks have caught onto GPS and networks such as Nextel, Sprint and Verizon first came on board in 2002 in response to the U.S. F.C.C. requesting that handsets have a global positioning system built into them for emergency situations.