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Indexing the Sphere with the Hierarchical Triangular Mesh

Alex Szalay, Jim Gray, Gyorgy Fekete, Peter Kunszt, Peter Kukol, and Ani Thakar


We describe a method to subdivide the surface of a sphere into spherical triangles of similar, but not identical, shapes and sizes. The Hierarchical Triangular Mesh (HTM) is a quad-tree that is particularly good at supporting searches at different resolutions, from arc seconds to hemispheres. The subdivision scheme is universal, providing the basis for addressing and for fast lookups. The HTM provides the basis for an efficient geospatial indexing scheme in relational databases where the data have an inherent location on either the celestial sphere or the Earth. The HTM index is superior to cartographical methods using coordinates with singularities at the poles. We also describe a way to specify surface regions that efficiently represent spherical query areas. This article presents the algorithms used to identify the HTM triangles covering such regions


Publication typeTechReport
InstitutionMicrosoft Research
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