NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ876127
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Mar
Pages: 3
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 16
ISSN: ISSN-0031-921X
Daytime Celestial Navigation for the Novice
Sadler, Philip M.; Night, Christopher
Physics Teacher, v48 n3 p197-199 Mar 2010
What kinds of astronomical lab activities can high school and college astronomy students carry out easily in daytime? The most impressive is the determination of latitude and longitude from observations of the Sun. The "shooting of a noon sight" and its "reduction to a position" grew to become a daily practice at the start of the 19th century following the perfection of the marine chronometer by John Harrison and its mass production. This technique is still practiced by navigators in this age of GPS. Indeed, the U.S. Coast Guard exams for ocean-going licenses include celestial navigation. These techniques continue to be used by the military and by private sailors as a backup to all-too-fallible and jammable electronic navigation systems. A sextant, a nautical almanac, special sight reduction tables, and involved calculations are needed to determine position to the nearest mile using the Sun, Moon, stars, or planets. Yet, finding latitude and longitude to better than 30 miles from measurements of the Sun's altitude is easily within the capability of those taking astronomy or physics for the first time by applying certain basic principles. Moreover, it shows a practical application of astronomy in use the world over. The streamlined method described here takes advantage of the similar level of accuracy of its three components: 1. Observations using a homemade quadrant (instead of a sextant), 2. Student-made graphs of the altitude of the Sun over a day (replacing lengthy calculation using sight reduction tables), and 3. An averaged 20-year analemma used to find the Sun's navigational coordinates, (rather than the 300+ page "Nautical Almanac" updated yearly).
American Association of Physics Teachers. One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740. Tel: 301-209-3300; Fax: 301-209-0845; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: High Schools; Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A