How to Calculate the Line of Sight

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Historically speaking, calculating the line of sight from a given height was important, as it both represented the maximum range of immediate communication before the advent of the telegraph, and facilitated the ability to scan for visual information about the immediate vicinity. Line of sight is defined as the distance between an observer and the horizon of the Earth, and, in the absence of obstructive terrain such as mountains, can be calculated easily given the height above sea level of the observer's eye.

Things You'll Need

  • Calculator
  • Altimeter
  • Measure the height of your current position above sea level using your altimeter, or by referencing a topographical marker in your immediate vicinity. It does not matter whether you use meters or feet.

  • Find the square root of your height using the calculator.

  • Multiply the result calculated in Step 2 by a constant in order to obtain your line of sight. If you measured your height in meters, multiply the result by 3.86 to obtain the distance in kilometers. If you used feet instead, multiply the result by 1.32 to obtain the distance in miles.

Tips & Warnings

  • This formula accounts for the distortion of visible light waves due to atmospheric refraction.

References

  • Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images
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