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    Re: The End of Celestial Navigation??
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2008 Jan 08, 16:18 -0500

    I wrote:
    "From a recent publication:" And Dan, you replied: "In the big scheme of 
    things, yes." 
    Heh. My point exactly. :-) 
    I quoted:
    "there is not very much scope for the practice of the fine old methods of 
    navigation which relied almost entirely upon observation of the sun, moon, 
    and stars to give the position of the ship at sea." 
    And you spotted it right away:
    "Lunars of course!  While it looks like a 2007 prediction of the death of 
    sextants, it was written in October of 1901 in Blackwood's Edinburgh 
    Magazine!  I was reading that article just the other day... ;-)" 
    LOL. The force is strong with you, young Jedi. Yes, it's another little 
    morsel from Google books. Here's a longer quotation from the same article 
    ("Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine", 1901): 
    "In these days of fast steamships, good chronometers, and patent logs, there 
    is not very much scope for the practice of the fine old methods of 
    navigation which relied almost entirely upon observation of the sun, moon, 
    and stars to give the position of the ship at sea. The modern navigator has 
    buried the best part of his astronomy under a heap of dead reckonings and 
    log readings, with the Greenwich time shown by a whole battery of 
    chronometers. Gone out of all ordinary use is the beautiful method of 
    finding the longitude from "lunar distances," for the perfection of which 
    the Royal Observatory at Greenwich was founded: it was superseded almost 
    before the labours of astronomers had placed it on a secure footing; and it 
    lingers on now in the columns of the nautical almanacs only as a stand-by in 
    a last extremity, and a cause of stumbling to the midshipmen of his 
    Majesty's navy. Eminently practical the new navigation is, especially to 
    those who sail in the cloudy seas about our own part of the world, in days 
    when one can no more afford to hang about the mouth of time Channel waiting 
    for a sight of the sun and moon, than to look at the end of the summer for a 
    snug harbour in which to winter, after the ancient mode. But there are some 
    people who have loved navigation because it is a branch of astronomy, and a 
    materially useful outcome of that science, to be commended to those sordid 
    folk who ask of the scientists' work whether there is any money in it; and 
    they cannot help regretting the fact that in the everyday handling of a ship 
    at sea there is little need now for any more astronomical data than were 
    available almost two centuries ago. The expert lunarians � the men who found 
    their longitude from observations of the moon�are gone from ships, like the 
    Mississippi pilots whose skill Mark Twain has immortalised, and one cannot 
    watch their going without regret for a fine art fallen into disuse. In the 
    words of Captain Slocum of the Spray, �The work of the lunarian, though 
    seldom practised in these days of chronometers, is beautifully edifying, and 
    there is nothing in the realm of navigation that lifts one's heart more in 
    We cannot but admit, however, that Captain Slocum professed this belief 
    rather as a pious opinion than as a rule of life; for those who have read 
    the delightful account of his voyage alone round the world will remember 
    that he scarcely lived up to his own opinions and practised what he praised. 
    He stands self-convicted of having done more guessing than he was even by 
    naturalisation entitled to do, marking the position of his ship upon the 
    charts "by intuition, I think, more than slavish calculations." But he lived 
    up to the traditions of the old circumnavigators when he sailed without a 
    chronometer, for sufficient reasons: and by the help of the sun and moon he 
    found his way with only one mishap, when he "hugged the shore entirely too 
    close." His voyage was, perhaps, a triumph of observation of the ways rather 
    of the seas and the winds around than of the heavens above him..." 
    The article goes on to discuss the navigation on Nansen's polar expedition. 
    Here's the rest: http://books.google.com/books?id=nJxwWY5dsuMC&pg=RA7-PA596 
    I thought it was interesting that this author attributed the decline of the 
    fancier forms of celestial navigation, in part, to the availability of the 
    patent log. 
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