Coordinate singularity

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A coordinate singularity occurs when an apparent singularity or discontinuity occurs in one coordinate frame that can be removed by choosing a different frame.

An example is the apparent (longitudinal) singularity at the 90 degree latitude in spherical coordinates. An object moving due north (for example, along the line 0 degrees longitude) on the surface of a sphere will suddenly experience an instantaneous change in longitude at the pole (i.e., jumping from longitude 0 to longitude 180 degrees). In fact, longitude is not uniquely defined at the poles. This discontinuity, however, is only apparent; it is an artifact of the coordinate system chosen, which is singular at the poles. A different coordinate system would eliminate the apparent discontinuity, e.g. by replacing the latitude/longitude representation with an n-vector representation.

Stephen Hawking aptly summed this up, when once asking the question, "What lies north of the North Pole?".[1]

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  1. ^ What is Cosmology?, Accessed 15 Feb 2013. In a related discussion, he mentions this again : The Beginning of Time - Stephen Hawking Archived 2014-10-06 at the Wayback Machine; accessed 15 Feb 2013.