Classes in celestial navigation and related topics
Navigation & Astronomy Classes: 2015The Planetarium at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut and ReedNavigation.com are offering several weekend workshops and classes in celestial navigation this Fall. Three of these are appropriate for beginners covering real traditional navigational techniques that will enable you to fix your position in latitude and longitude using the Sun and other celestial bodies, a sextant, and simple mathematical techniques. We have a one-day introduction to sextants and the basic "Noon Sun" sight, and also two intensive two-day classes covering introductory navigation; one from the historical perspective of the Age of Sail and another from an entirely modern 21st century perspective. And if you enjoy historical methods, we're also offering a class in "lunars", once considered the ultimate art form in celestial navigation. In addition, we have a special workshop this year covering sundials and concepts in time, and we're again offering a course in simple astro-photography with a smartphone or basic digital camera.
Sextants and the Noon Sun
September 26, 2015, 10:00am - 4:00pm (a single-day workshop)
Sextants are remarkably precise navigation instruments. Invented nearly 300 years ago, they're still practical today. In this introductory workshop, we'll focus on using and adjusting modern sextants, and we'll also talk about how to buy new and used sextants. Participants will learn now to take the traditional "Noon Sun" sight to get latitude anywhere on the globe, and we'll see how navigators worked Noon Sun sights aboard the whaleship Charles W. Morgan in the late nineteenth century.
Participants will learn the basics of nautical astronomy including the concepts of declination, altitude corrections, and zenith distance. After completing this workshop, you'll be able to apply these tools to real navigation. If you can add and subtract, you can find latitude by the Sun at noon!more...
Celestial Navigation: 19th Century Methods
October 3-4, 2015, 10:00am - 4:00pm each day:
A workshop in the history and the actual techniques of celestial navigation as it was practiced aboard American sailing vessels in the Age of Sail. We'll learn how it was done, especially aboard Mystic Seaport's premier exhibit vessel, the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan, by examining original logbooks and navigational calculations from its voyages, and we'll apply these same methods today. Participants will learn how to use and adjust sextants and octants, both historical and modern, and we'll learn the classic method of finding latitude by "Noon Sun". We'll also cover in detail the "time sight" which was used to determine longitude from the 19th through the middle of the 20th century. Throughout, we will compare what we're doing with actual logbook entries and calculations in the collections of Mystic Seaport.
Weather permitting, participants will have opportunities to make actual sextant observations. This is real navigation, not just a class "about" navigation. Fast and intense, students who complete this weekend workshop will have the basic celestial navigation skills to cross any ocean using the Sun, a sextant, and a few other simple tools. Good addition and subtraction skills are required for this workshop as well as a basic familiarity with angles and latitude and longitude. more...
Lunars: Finding Longitude by Observing the Moon
October 17-18, 2015, 10:00am - 4:00pm each day:
An intermediate level workshop in the famous method of finding longitude by lunar distances, usually known for short as "lunars". Lunars were widely used at sea in the early 19th century in the era before chronometers became common. By observing the position of the Moon relative to the Sun or stars, navigators used the Moon as a great natural clock in the sky. From James Cook and Nathaniel Bowditch to Joshua Slocum, lunars were a challenge that proved a navigator's skill.
This workshop also covers the fine details of adjusting a sextant properly for shooting accurate lunars, tricks for taking sights, and easy methods for clearing these famously difficult observations. We'll also talk about some of the interesting mathematics and astronomical theories that made lunars possible. For a modern celestial navigator or navigation enthusiast, there is no better test of your sextant and observing skills. Weather permitting, participants will have opportunities to take actual lunar observations, determining their longitude in the great tradition of Cook and Bowditch and Slocum.
Requirements: an introductory course or equivalent in the the use of a sextant and other basic concepts of celestial navigation. High school level math skills and a very basic familiarity with trigonometry are recommended.more...
Modern Celestial Navigation
October 24-25, 2015, 10:00am - 4:00pm each day:
This is not your grandparents' celestial navigation! Celestial for the 21st century navigator: a fast-paced introduction to celestial navigation from a modern perspective, designed especially for yachtsmen and recreational boaters. If you're thinking about bluewater sailing, celestial navigation stands as the only autonomous backup to GPS and electronic navigation. Celestial is also a tradition that connects us with maritime history.
In this hands-on workshop, participants will learn how to adjust and use sextants available on the market today. We'll learn how to analyze and clear sextant observations using modern tools, including calculators and software apps. Weather permitting, participants will have opportunities to experiment with sextant observations as well as artificial satellite observations to determine latitude and longitude. We'll also learn how to use the Sun and stars as a highly accurate compass, a technique valuable in near-shore waters as well as bluewater sailing.
This is real navigation, celestial navigation for the 21st century, not just a class about navigation. Fast and intense, students who complete this weekend workshop will have the basic celestial navigation skills necessary to double check a GPS position or to sail entirely by the sun and stars using a sextant, a handheld calculator, and a few other simple tools. Good addition and subtraction skills are required for this workshop as well as a basic familiarity with angles, as well as latitude and longitude.more...
Sundials: It's All About Time
October 31, 2015, 10:00am - 4:00pm:
Build your own sundial as we learn about time in all its variations. In this workshop, participants will learn how to build a basic sundial, how to adjust backyard sundials, and how to read the time of day just by observing the Sun in the sky. We'll discuss local apparent time, or "sundial time", and its (sometimes distant) connection to the time we read on our clocks. We'll see how the mysterious-sounding "equation of time" connects the two. And we'll trace the strange history of modern time zones, daylight saving time, sidereal time, mean time, leap days, and even leap seconds. Throughout we'll connect modern time-keeping with maritime history, and we'll see how traditional celestial navigators depended on time and used sextants as sundials at sea to find their longitude anywhere on Earth. more...
Easy Astro Photos
November 21, 2015, 10:00am - 4:00pm:
Learn to take the best possible photos of astronomical objects and sky phenomena from sunsets and rainbows to moon phases, earthshine, eclipses and other astronomical events using a smartphone and other basic digital cameras. There is an art and a science to Astro-Photography, and in this workshop we will cover both. You'll learn how to determine the Moon's correct azimuth and altitude using celestial navigation techniques to line it up perfectly with your favorite bridge, lighthouse, or maybe a vessel under sail. We will also discuss tricks with exposures and polarized light that can turn an average photo of the twilight sky into a spectacular astro-photo.
The science and tricks that let us take the perfect astro-photo also allow us to analyze modern and historical astro-photos. We will apply many of the tools of traditional celestial navigation to learn how to analyze photos of the stars, sun, and moon and figure out the exact date and locations of photographic images, both modern and historical, using astronomical clues. Every photo has a hidden story, and astronomy can often tell the tale.
Along the way in this workshop, we'll encounter some of the fake astro-photos that have gone viral, and we'll consider some not-so-real phenomena like the famous (infamous?) Supermoon and see how they fit in with backyard photographic methods.more...
A frequently asked question:"They both sound good - which class should I take?"
Of the two introductory classes above, if you're interested in history, old logbooks, and perhaps a bit more interested in mathematical details, too, then sign up for the "19th century methods" class. If you're more practically oriented, more pragmatic, not much interested in historical details, and mostly looking for a good (last resort) backup for your GPS, then sign up for the "modern celestial" class. Both will give you real, usable navigational skills and methods.
28 posted. 1 waiting approval.
Do you offer celestial nav courses for sailors?
The class was also a great resource for my teaching and my own research interests such as the visibility of celestial objects in the daytime (Jupiter and Venus) and the effects of astronomical refraction near the horizon. I hope to take more workshops with Frank.
Dr. Russell D. Sampson
Eastern Connecticut State University
Also, the class was made more enjoyable through discussions with my other classmates during, and after the class had ended! You know a class is worthwhile when the learning continues outside of the classroom.
I highly recommend any of Frank's classes and workshops, since the guy knows what he's talking about, and he can explain it to folks with (or without) all kinds of math and physics backgrounds.
Plus, it's just plain fun to realize that all you have to do to find out where you are in the universe is "look up". Now that's just cool.
Philip M. Sadler, Ed.D.
F.W. Wright Senior Lecturer in Celestial Navigation
Harvard University Astronomy Department
Samuel S. Caldwell MD
Saratoga Springs, NY
I am the author of a new release book, "Riding the Wild Ocean," a collection of my wildest adventures in small boats under twenty feet in length from Cape Cod to the Dry Tortugas. Although my craft is too small and unstable a platform for practical use of a sextant, my extensive experience sailing small boats on the open water enabled me to recognize the great extent to which Frank Reed's instruction reflects the wisdom of a long experienced and master seaman. I can confidently recommend any of his courses based on my delightful experience with this skilled and engaging educator.
In case anyone is interested, my book will be available in bookstores and online (Amazon) after March 11, 2014 but can be purchased now directly from the publisher at: https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781627468572.
Paul S. Krantz, Jr.
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab
I'm a write in NJ and I'm researching a novel and raised a question about nautical navigation. I understand that navigation almanacs are published annually. If a longitude and latitude were given for an island location that was taken in 1930 using a sextant, would there be an appreciable difference in the location were a character were to sail to those coordinates 75 years later? The island in my novel is not plotted on any map, but my character only has a position expressed in longitude and latitude as fund in an old ships log. I realize as much as one degree of latitude can be as much as 65 +/- miles off.
I imagine I'm asking if the celestial deviation or instrument accuracy would be great enough in those elapsed years to put a boat today an location that was indeed different in 1930, and if so by how far. My story is set in the central Indian Ocean.
I've read through the course offered at Mystic Seaport in March and wondered if this would be beneficial to my research.
Thank you so much for your time.
Would you be able to assist me.
Is the Intermediate Celestial Navigation Course still being offered at Mystic Seaport? I'm registered for the introductory course later this month but I haven't seen the second class posted on their website.
Quite apart from the computations, the type setting and printing must have been formidable! Were there mechanical computers that could handle this? How many people were involved?
Mystic looks a fun place to study astro nav - I am from Poole, on the south coast of England.
I was very interested to see your course on lunars. I just learned about your class but have missed the dates. Will there be another class soon?
All the best,
I listened to you at Greenwich in 2012. I'd like to try a Lunar. My experience has been only in the air with a MkIX bubble sextant (as a young man) and later with a Smiths Mk2B periscopic sextant, both of which I have working examples of. I also have a Hughes Mate's marine sextant with relatively small mirrors which I bought and a plywood and bathroom mirror-tile version which I made. I scratched the plastic arc with a dividing gear on a lathe. The verniers scratched on the arm. It gives about 3nm on still nights shooting off a washing up bowl of water and dividing the Hs by two. My problem is I live inland in a built up area. Will it be OK to use the Hughes or my home made nautical sextant to measure the lunar distance and the altitudes using the Smiths pendulous reference periscopic sextant accurate to about 2 minutes of arc for the altitudes?
I suppose what I'm saying is is it only the lunar distance which needs to be measured to tenths of a minute, or do the altitudes have to be measured equally accurately?
I would appreciate talking to your people if you have done this, to discuss things like determining "dip" in a theater where the sextant user is actually BELOW the projected horizon rather than above a true horizon outside.
Another issue is that the altitude of a celestial object projected on the theater's dome would vary from one seat to another inside the theater. I would love to discuss how you have managed this.
You both bring up a fantastic idea that has been approached and (to some extent) solved before. Specifically for the U.S. lunar space program at the Morehead planetarium in NC.
Frank: you excellently bring up dome parallax, but isn't there going to be at least one point, or small area (near center of dome sphere, focal point of the dome) where the parallax wouldn't be nearly as significant? I'd assume this may require a platform / scissor lift etc and might not always be practical, dependent on the type of star projection system in the planetarium selected. I'd also guess the use of a bubble horizon would be necessary too.
Like Bob, I am also very interested in this subject with a local planetarium interested in the subject, and it doesn't seem to have a well published solution ;)
Your collective thoughts? Are there any good resources available on the subject?
I plan on signing up for the Modern Celestial Navigation Course offered in March and possibly the intermediate course as well. Is it recommended to purchase a sextant prior to the course, if so where would one purchase this instrument?
You don't need to purchase a sextant in advance, but if you have one, yes, bring it along. If you would like to acquire a relatively inexpensive, functional sextant, I would suggest looking for a lightly-used Davis plastic sextant. These turn up fairly often on eBay for $100 or less. They're real sextants. You can cross an ocean with one. They're somewhat less accurate than a proper metal instrument, but it's not a major concern. And you can always upgrade later.
- Sextants and the Noon Sun, Mystic Seaport, Sep. 26.
- Celestial Navigation: 19th Century Methods, Mystic Seaport, Oct. 3-4.
- Lunars: Longitude by the Moon, Mystic Seaport, Oct. 17-18.
- Modern Celestial Navigation, Mystic Seaport, Oct. 24-25.
- Sundials: It's All About Time, Mystic Seaport, Oct. 31
- Easy Astro Photos, Mystic Seaport, Nov. 21.
- By email or phone
© Copyright 2015, Frank Reed, ReedNavigation.com, Conanicut Island USA.