Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for cartographers, geographers and GIS professionals. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have the circles' center in lat & long, as well as the radius in meters. How do I find the circles intersections?


Circle 1: Center on Earth's surface (43.564627,-116.220524) These values are Latitude and Longitude
        Radius: 15 Meters a Length on the surface of the earth

Circle 2:  Center on Earth's surface (43.564736,-116.219741) These values are Latitude and Longitude
        Radius: 15 Meters a Length on the surface of the earth

Expressed in Latitude and Longitude, where do these circles intersect?

I am unsure of the best method to find the closest results, accuracy within 2 meters should be alright.

share|improve this question
up vote 2 down vote accepted

If your circles' radii are relatively small (like your sample 15m), you could transform this into a purely geometric problem by projecting circle centers onto a plane and calculating their intersections. Then you could unproject the intersection points back into geodetic coordinates. The key is to find the best projection.

Since you say the radii are small and circles could be placed anywhere on Earth, I guess for best accuracy you'd need an oblique conformal projection, something like

EDIT: general steps to calculate intersections (and I'm not saying this is a best approach):

  1. For each circle calculate the lat/lon point on the circle which is on the same meridian as the circle's center. You can use Earth's circumference for this.
  2. Calculate the midpoint between two circles (by simply averaging the two circles' center lat/lons. This will be the center of the map projection.
  3. Project circles' centers using Oblique Mercator.
  4. Project the two points on the circle (also using Oblique Mercator).
  5. For each circle you now have its center (X,Y) and radius (by subtracting Y coordinate of the point on the circle from the Y coordinate of the center).
  6. Calculate intersections using the link I mentioned above.
  7. Project the two intersection points back onto Earth's surface (using inverse projection formulas).
  8. That's it.
share|improve this answer
The circles will always be no more then 40 meters apart. And could be any place on Earth, though they will never be anyplace closer to the poles then Alaska. – Seth Hikari Jun 4 '11 at 6:41
I've updated the answer. – Igor Brejc Jun 4 '11 at 6:59
This is an excellent answer, if some one could use my sample with steps to get the answer I would very much appreciate it. – Seth Hikari Jun 4 '11 at 7:03
I've added the general steps. For anything more than that, you need a consulting job :). If you need this as a software solution, take look at PostGIS or contact me ( – Igor Brejc Jun 4 '11 at 7:54

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.