Cartesian means relating to the French mathematician and philosopher Descartes, who, among other things, worked to merge algebra and Euclidean geometry. This work was influential to the development of analytic geometry, calculus, and cartography. The idea of this system was developed in 1637 in two writings by Descartes:  Discourse on Method
 In part two, he introduces the new idea of specifying the position of a point or object on a surface, using two intersecting axes as measuring guides.
 La Géométrie
 further explores the abovementioned concepts
Twodimensional coordinate system
The modern Cartesian coordinate system in two dimensions (also called a rectangular coordinate system) is commonly defined by two axes, at right angles to each other, forming a plane (an xy_plane). The horizontal axis is labeled x, and the vertical axis is labeled y. In a three dimensional coordinate system, another axis, normally labeled z, is added, providing a sense of a third dimension of space measurement. The axes are commonly defined as mutually orthogonal to each other (each at a right angle to the other). (Early systems allowed "oblique" axes, that is, axes that did not meet at right angles.) All the points in a Cartesian coordinate system taken together form a socalled Cartesian plane. The point of intersection, where the axes meet, is called the origin normally labeled O. With the origin labeled O, we can name the x axis Ox and the y axis Oy. The x and y axes define a plane that can be referred to as the xy plane. Given each axis, choose a unit length, and mark off each unit along the axis, forming a grid. To specify a particular point on a two dimensional coordinate system, you indicate the x unit first (abscissa), followed by the y unit (ordinate) in the form (x,y), an ordered pair. In three dimensions, a third z unit is added, (x,y,z). The choices of letters come from the original convention, which is to use the latter part of the alphabet to indicate unknown values. The first part of the alphabet was used to designate known values. An example of a point P on the system is indicated in the picture below using the coordinate (5,2).
The arrows on the axes indicate that they extend forever in the same direction (i.e. infinitely). The intersection of the two xy axes creates four quadrants indicated by the roman numerals I, II, III, and IV. Conventionally, the quadrants are labeled counterclockwise starting from the northeast quadrant. In Quadrant I the values are (x,y), and II:(x,y), III:(x,y) and IV:(x,y). (see table below.) Quadrant  x values  y values  I  > 0  > 0  II  < 0  > 0  III  < 0  < 0  IV  > 0  < 0  Threedimensional coordinate system Sometime in the early 19th century the third dimension of measurement was added, using the z axis.
The coordinates in a three dimensional system are of the form (x,y,z). An example of two points plotted in this system are in the picture above, points P(5,0,2) and Q(5,5,10). Notice that the axes are depicted in a worldcoordinates orientation with the Z axis pointing up. The x, y, and z coordinates of a point (say P) can also be taken as the distances from the yzplane, xzplane, and xyplane respectively. The figure below shows the distances of point P from the planes.
The three dimensional coordinate system is popular because it provides the physical dimensions of space, of height, width, and length, and this is often referred to as "the three dimensions". It is important to note that a dimension is simply a measure of something, and that, for each class of features to be measured, another dimension can be added. Attachment to visualizing the dimensions precludes understanding the many different dimensions that can be measured (time, mass, color, cost, etc.). It is the powerful insight of Descartes that allows us to manipulate multidimensional object algebraically, avoiding compass and protractor for analyzing in more than three dimensions.
Orientation and "handedness" The threedimensional Cartesian coordinate system presents a problem. Once the x and yaxes are specified, they determine the line along which the zaxis should lie, but there are two possible directions on this line. The two possible coordinate systems which result are called 'righthanded' and 'lefthanded'. The origin of these names is a trick called the righthand rule (and the corresponding lefthand rule). If the forefinger of the right hand is pointed forward, the middle finger bent inward at a right angle to it, and the thumb placed a right angle to both, the three fingers indicate the relative directions of the x, y, and zaxes respectively in a righthanded system. Conversely, if the same is done with the left hand, a lefthanded system results. The righthanded system is universally accepted in the physical sciences, but the lefthanded is also still in use. The left_handed orientation is shown on the left, and the right_handed on the right. If a point plotted with some coordinates in a right_handed system is replotted with the same coordinates in a left_handed system, the new point is the mirror image of the old point about the xyplane. The right_handed cartesian coordinate system indicating the coordinate planes. More ambiguity occurs when a three_dimensional coordinate system must be drawn on a two_dimensional page. Sometimes the z_axis is drawn diagonally, so that it seems to point out of the page. Sometimes it is drawn vertically, as in the above image (this is called a world coordinates orientation).
Further notes In analytic geometry the Cartesian coordinate system is the foundation for the algebraic manipulation of geometrical shapes. Many other coordinate systems have been developed since Descartes. One common set of systems use polar coordinates; astronomers often use spherical coordinates, a type of polar coordinate system. In different branches of mathematics coordinate systems can be transformed, translated, rotated, and re_defined altogether to simplify calculation and for specialized ends. It may be interesting to note that some have indicated that the master artists of the Renaissance used a grid, in the form of a wire mesh, as a tool for breaking up the component parts of their subjects they painted__a trade secret. That this may have influenced Descartes is merely speculative. (See perspective, projective geometry.)
References Descartes, René. Oscamp, Paul J. (trans). Discourse on Method, Optics, Geometry, and Meteorology. 2001.
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