ArcGIS Desktop Help on How Aspect works explains the calculations used, but introduces the for me magic number of 57.29578:

aspect = 57.29578 * atan2 ([dz/dy], -[dz/dx])

Where does this number come from and what does it stand for?

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    It took me a while and some research to figure out what was going on, so I thought I'll post a question-answer here, maybe it'll help someone :) – martin-martin Apr 22 '17 at 1:14
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    Nice one, I remember the number 1.852 from mapping software I learnt from as a student. Realizing what it was was very educational and provides a mental shortcut that I use still. – mdsumner Apr 22 '17 at 5:40
  • Cool! Had to look that one up too, but it's great to see all these numbers making sense: 1.852 -> en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nautical_mile – martin-martin Apr 22 '17 at 15:26

In a GIS aspect is generally shown in radians.

57.29578 is 1 radian in degrees - ArcGIS is using this number when converting to radians.

A simple way to remember how to convert from degrees to radians and vice versa, is to keep in mind that 180° = π rad (check out the corresponding section on Khan Academy) - therefore:

  • 1 rad = 180°/π
  • 1° = π rad/180

Here's a great visualization that explains this relation well:

enter image description here

(Credit - Lucas V. Barbosa - Own work, Public Domain)

And here's some python code for converting one way and the other:

import math

def radians_to_degrees(radians):
  """converts radians to degrees."""
  # pi radians = 180 degrees -> 1 radians = 180/pi degrees
  rads_in_degrees = ( 180 / math.pi ) * radians
  return rads_in_degrees

def degrees_to_radians(degrees):
  """converts degrees to radians."""
  # pi radians = 180 degrees -> 1 degree = pi/180 radians
  degs_in_rads = ( math.pi / 180 ) * degrees
  return degs_in_rads

Running the code let's us finally (with a drumroll...) reveal the mystery number's identity unambiguously:


>>>> 57.29577951308232
>>>> 1.0000000084983167
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