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2005 Compass Rose Geocoin
The Compass Rose

Navigation Methods

Discovery compass A few early navigation methods

The celestial heavens were used as tools to navigate, but that meant being limited to only using them at night, which was dangerous. Also, some societies lacked vitamin A nutrition and therefore did not have reliable night vision. Another factor limiting accurate star navigation is the fact that stars moved across the night sky instead of staying in one place due to the rotation of the earth. That left Polaris (also called the North Star) as one of the few stars to get a fairly good idea of direction. This could only occur on clear nights when the star was visible, and only in the northern hemisphere.

The southern hemisphere is not as fortunate to have a star like Polaris to show the approximate center of south. A triangulation method had to be used from the constellations of the Southern Cross and Centaurus. This method left a lot to be desired in the form of accuracy.

It was not until a few tools were invented to tell time and latitude that more accurate celestial navigation was possible.

The sun was one form of primary reference since it always rises in the east and sets in the west. But using it as a reference without a gauge also has its disadvantages since the earth changes its angle in relation to the sun due to its axial tilt during its orbit around the sun. Later in time, several inventions enabled accuracy to navigate by the sun. However, some of these favored devices often required staring into the sun and caused blindness.

Another form of navigation involved the use of the winds. Using the patterns of the wind, they named the prevailing winds North wind, East wind, South wind, and West wind.

Monticello Sun Dial

Time is crucial with mordern navigation as much as it was in the early days. The employment of time in navigation came about from needing to determine location through the use of the stars and sun which are constantly moving across the heavens (in relation to how you see them from the ground). Using a point in the sky, knowing what time it is and the latitude; it then became possible to reference a navigational almanac or celestial chart and calculate a more precise location.

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