I've got a spec that details what features are to appear on a map at certain number of miles above the earth. So for example "Render this point when closer than 400 miles above the earth".

How do I convert that to a scale? I'm using a standard zxy base map so I need to change the spec to "render this point when zoom level greater than 6"

Is there a standard calculation for this?

  • 1
    Most mapping software uses scale, which is a rough approximation, due to pixel size in the physical monitor. Height above Earth is even more approximate, since it depend on distance form the monitor.
    – Vince
    Jan 25, 2017 at 12:11
  • You want to convert "miles above the earth" to something like "1:25,000 scale"? And what do you mean by "standard zoom level"?
    – Spacedman
    Jan 25, 2017 at 12:33
  • @Spacedman edited to try and make myself clearer. by standard zoom level I mean the 1-20 levels that google use.
    – dibs487
    Jan 25, 2017 at 15:43

1 Answer 1


I don't know if there is a standard formula for calculating zoom level based on altitude but you can do some trigonometric calculations.

I assume your field of view is nadir which means FOV(angle) = 45 degrees

Altitude in your case, A = 400 miles = 643738 meters

and now i will assume your map extent is 1000 x 1000 pixels so number of pixels from the center of map, n = 500 px

If R is the resolution in meter/pixel then we have the following relation:

tan FOV = n x R/A
R = A/n x tan FOV

With FOV = 45, A = 643738 and n = 500 we get R = 1287.5 m/px

enter image description here

In this case your approximate map scale is 1:4,000,000 and zoom level = 7

Depends on your map extent, you can cross check resolution value in the above table and get your approximate map scale and zoom_level.

Hope this will solve your problem.

  • Thanks, it's a great answer, better than my question deserves. But I'm confused why the size of the map is important. If I were on google maps in earth mode then the image at zoom level X is what I would see in my eye if I was hovering at Y meters above the earth regardless of screen size.
    – dibs487
    Jan 26, 2017 at 10:17

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