# Clairaut's relation (differential geometry)

In classical differential geometry, Clairaut's relation, named after Alexis Claude de Clairaut, is a formula that characterizes the great circle paths on the unit sphere. The formula states that if γ is a parametrization of a great circle then

${\displaystyle \rho (\gamma (t))\sin \psi (\gamma (t))={\text{constant}},\,}$

where ρ(P) is the distance from a point P on the great circle to the z-axis, and ψ(P) is the angle between the great circle and the meridian through the point P.

The relation remains valid for a geodesic on an arbitrary surface of revolution.

A statement of the general version of Clairaut's relation is:[1]

Let γ be a geodesic on a surface of revolution S, let ρ be the distance of a point of S from the axis of rotation, and let ψ be the angle between γ and the meridian of S. Then ρ sin ψ is constant along γ. Conversely, if ρ sin ψ is constant along some curve γ in the surface, and if no part of γ is part of some parallel of S, then γ is a geodesic.

Andrew Pressley: Elementary Differential Geometry, p. 183

Pressley (p. 185) explains this theorem as an expression of conservation of angular momentum about the axis of revolution when a particle moves along a geodesic under no forces other than those that keep it on the surface.