This is an old version of the documentation. See for the latest version.

Using and Designing Coordinate Representations

As described in the Overview of astropy.coordinates concepts, the actual coordinate data in astropy.coordinates frames is represented via “Representation classes”. These can be used to store 3-d coordinates in various representations, such as cartesian, spherical polar, cylindrical, and so on. The built-in representation classes are:

  • CartesianRepresentation: cartesian coordinates x, y, and z
  • SphericalRepresentation: spherical polar coordinates represented by a longitude (lon), a latitude (lat), and a distance (distance). The latitude is a value ranging from -90 to 90 degrees.
  • UnitSphericalRepresentation: spherical polar coordinates on a unit sphere, represented by a longitude (lon) and latitude (lat)
  • PhysicsSphericalRepresentation: spherical polar coordinates, represented by an inclination (theta) and azimuthal angle (phi), and radius r. The inclination goes from 0 to 180 degrees, and is related to the latitude in the SphericalRepresentation by theta = 90 deg - lat.
  • CylindricalRepresentation: cylindrical polar coordinates, represented by a cylindrical radius (rho), azimuthal angle (phi), and height (z).


For information about using and changing the representation of SkyCoord objects, see the Representations section.

Instantiating and converting

Representation classes should be instantiated with Quantity objects:

>>> from astropy import units as u
>>> from astropy.coordinates.representation import CartesianRepresentation
>>> car = CartesianRepresentation(3 * u.kpc, 5 * u.kpc, 4 * u.kpc)
>>> car
<CartesianRepresentation (x, y, z) in kpc
    (3.0, 5.0, 4.0)>

Representations can be converted to other representations using the represent_as method:

>>> from astropy.coordinates.representation import SphericalRepresentation, CylindricalRepresentation
>>> sph = car.represent_as(SphericalRepresentation)
>>> sph  
<SphericalRepresentation (lon, lat, distance) in (rad, rad, kpc)
    (1.03037682652, 0.601264216679, 7.07106781187)>
>>> cyl = car.represent_as(CylindricalRepresentation)
>>> cyl  
<CylindricalRepresentation (rho, phi, z) in (kpc, rad, kpc)
    (5.83095189485, 1.03037682652, 4.0)>

All representations can be converted to each other without loss of information, with the exception of UnitSphericalRepresentation. This class is used to store the longitude and latitude of points but does not contain any distance to the points, and assumes that they are located on a unit and dimensionless sphere:

>>> from astropy.coordinates.representation import UnitSphericalRepresentation
>>> sph_unit = car.represent_as(UnitSphericalRepresentation)
>>> sph_unit  
<UnitSphericalRepresentation (lon, lat) in rad
    (1.03037682652, 0.601264216679)>

Converting back to cartesian, the absolute scaling information has been removed, and the points are still located on a unit sphere:

>>> sph_unit = car.represent_as(UnitSphericalRepresentation)
>>> sph_unit.represent_as(CartesianRepresentation) 
<CartesianRepresentation (x, y, z) [dimensionless]
    (0.424264068712, 0.707106781187, 0.565685424949)>

Array values

Array Quantity objects can also be passed to representations:

>>> import numpy as np
>>> x = np.random.random(100)
>>> y = np.random.random(100)
>>> z = np.random.random(100)
>>> car_array = CartesianRepresentation(x * u.m, y * u.m, z * u.m)
>>> car_array  
<CartesianRepresentation (x, y, z) in m
    [(0.7093..., 0.7788..., 0.3842...),
     (0.8434..., 0.4543..., 0.9579...),
     (0.0179..., 0.8587..., 0.4916...),
     (0.0207..., 0.3355..., 0.2799...)]>

Creating your own representations

To create your own representation class, your class must inherit from the BaseRepresentation class. In addition the following must be defined:

  • __init__ method:

    Has a signature like __init__(self, comp1, comp2, comp3, copy=True) for inputting the representation component values.

  • from_cartesian class method:

    Takes a CartesianRepresentation object and returns an instance of your class.

  • to_cartesian method:

    Returns a CartesianRepresentation object.

  • components property:

    Returns a tuple of the names of the coordinate components (such as x, lon, and so on).

  • attr_classes class attribute (OrderedDict):

    Defines the initializer class for each component.In most cases this class should be derived from Quantity. In particular these class initializers must take the value as the first argument and accept a unit keyword which takes a Unit initializer or None to indicate no unit. Also not that the keys of this dictionary are treated as the names of the components for this representation, with the default ordered given in the order they appear as keys.

  • recommended_units dictionary (optional):

    Maps component names to the recommended unit to convert the values of that component to. Can be None (or missing) to indicate there is no preferred unit. If this dictionary is not defined, no conversion of components to particular units will occur.

In pseudo-code, this means that your class will look like:

class MyRepresentation(BaseRepresentation):

    attr_classes = OrderedDict([('comp1', ComponentClass1),
                                 ('comp2', ComponentClass2),
                                 ('comp3', ComponentClass3)])

    # recommended_units is optional
    recommended_units = {'comp1': u.unit1, 'comp2': u.unit2, 'comp3': u.unit3}

    def __init__(self, ...):

    def from_cartesian(self, cartesian):
        return MyRepresentation(...)

    def to_cartesian(self):
        return CartesianRepresentation(...)

    def components(self):
        return 'comp1', 'comp2', 'comp3'

Once you do this, you will then automatically be able to call represent_as to convert other representations to/from your representation class. Your representation will also be available for use in SkyCoord and all frame classes.