Lost Without Longitude

Stuck in the middle of the ocean at night with no landmarks in sight -- how do you know where you are? This is a problem that has plagued sailors and challenged some of the greatest scientific and inventive minds for centuries. You can either explore a sneak peak of the material here or experience a much more comprehensive version on edX.


To navigate  is to move from one location to another by way of an intended course. By this definition, humans have been navigating for millennia, and as cultures developed different techniques and tools for ascertaining location and discerning route, navigation grew into a practice, an art, and a science. Navigational prowess has long been tied to commercial, economic, and military success. Being able to predict when and where one will reach a distant destination is more than just a key to empire-building -- it’s often a matter of life and death.


Our understandings of space and time and the ways we move through them are necessarily influenced by the society we inhabit, the ways in which it’s organized, and the technologies it produces and on which it relies. The GPS in 21st century smartphones uses satellite signals to ascertain terrestrial locations and overlay them on highly accurate maps, and it is so reliable that people today almost never think about how challenging navigating really is. They’d find it hard to believe that developing an accurate way to measure longitude was once a scientific challenge as important as curing cancer is today.


Tools of the Navigator

One of the most essential aspects of the development of human understanding and genuine use of longitude were innovative tools developed to solve complex mathematical and geographical problems. Click here or on the image below to learn about some of the tools used by historical navigators. 


Help, I'm Lost!

This section gives an overview of the steps one should take when they find themselves lost.

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Navigation as Prediction

Economic Importance of Longitude