Circumglobal Navigation Without Compasses or Clocks

In response to this article

A few years back, I and an astronomer friend at a star stare spent a few days working out various ways to navigate all over the earth using nothing but sticks, stones, and string — and basic math (addition and subtraction).

The only difficult aspect involved coming up with accurate enough measurements to find time (hence longitude) by lunar distance. The method is older than our nation and works well with a very accurate sextant, but does require both serious precision as well as tables on the motion of the Moon. They didn’t have trig 12,000 years ago. It grew out of studies of geometry as applied to astronomical studies in the 3rd Century B.C. But if you had an accurate enough sextant, octant — whatever — would you be able to navigate all over the world without a clock?

Interestingly enough, he was also a astronomy historian, and maintains the placement of structures as early as (IIRC) 12,000 years ago support the idea that ancient astronomers certainly knew both Autumnal and Vernal equinox, but also the solstices and analemma.

The question that began it all was, “Is worldwide navigation possible without a compass?” That was closely followed by, “Is worldwide navigation possible without a clock?”

The answer to both is a resounding yes, for two reasons: First, the compass is itself a huge gyroscope i.e. “gyro-compass” so no compass is required, provided you have the patience to read it. Second, because the Earth’s rate or rotation is predictable, the Earth is also a clock, again, if you have the patience to read it.

Admittedly, both the compass and the chronometer have made worldwide navigation applicable to far more time-critical endeavors such as flight.

Even so, technology even in 1903 was sufficient to overcome the lack of a magnetic compass, at least for short durations of flight. And over time, it’s conceivable that we could have developed the same or similar technologies as we have today without Earth having a magnetic field or us ever having developed clocks at all.*

*Yes, I’m aware GPS requires extremely accurate timekeeping. There are, however, ways around it. ?

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