Liberal Arts Blog — Determining, Defining Location: Soldiers, Sailors, Astronomers

Liberal Arts Blog — Wednesday is the Joy of Science, Engineering, and Technology Day

Today’s Topic — Determining, Defining Location: Soldiers, Sailors, Astronomers

My eyes glaze over as I look at a child’s globe and am confronted with a jumble of numbers — longitudes and latitudes criss crossing each other near the Arctic Circle. I try desperately to make sense of what I am looking at. I panic and give up. Making sense of the night sky is much worse. Astronomy likes to confuse those who don’t belong to the club by erecting vocabulary barriers to entry. Latitude isn’t latitude any more — it’s declination. And longitude isn’t longitude any more — it’s ascension. Finding your way on land or sea is hard enough. But in the night sky? This morning I resolved to make a little headway through this fog — starting with the 32 point compass rose. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

EAST SOUTH EAST IS HALFWAY BETWEEN SOUTHEAST AND SOUTH

  1. Southeast is halfway between south and east.

2. East southeast is halfway between southeast and east.

3. South southeast is halfway between southeast and south and the point midway between south southeast and south is called a quarter wind with the name “south by east.”

NB: When should children be taught this stuff? Were you? How important is the training of the visual imagination? Honestly, I just figured this out myself this morning. I feel like an idiot. But, hey, better late than never.

ASCENSION = LONGITUDE AND DECLINATION = LATITUDE. — BUT WHERE OH WHERE IS THE CELESTIAL EQUATOR?

1. “From mid-latitudes, the celestial equator stands midway between the horizon and overhead point, while from the poles the celestial equator encircles the horizon.”

2. “Anything north of the celestial equator has a northerly declination, marked with a positive sign.”

3. “Anything south of the equator has a negative declination written with a negative sign.”

NB: Does anyone else find this as confusing as I do? Why not consider the horizon the celestial equator and measure declination from there? Why not use Polaris as the Greenwich for ascension? Shouldn’t there be a more transparent language for non-professionals?

AN HOUR OF ASCENSION OR 15 DEGREES OF DECLINATION = 15 DEGREES OF LONGITUDE OR LATITUDE (fourth link below)

1. Did you ever wonder why 15 degrees separate the lines of longitude and latitude?

2. Here’s the math — 360 degrees divided by 24 hours = 15 degrees.

3. An hour of ascension is equivalent to 15 degrees of latitude.

NB: But why not measure declination in hours as well? or measure both in degrees as we do with latitude and longitude? Beyond my pay grade. Or at least enough for one morning. Any help appreciated. Were you ever confused and then un-confused by some imaginative teacher who took you across the Rubicon to “Oh! I get it!” Or is what is needed just x hours of repetition of a simple sentence or two? Like the 90 repetitions it takes to learn how to play a guitar piece well? Or the y number of repetitions it takes an average human to juggle three balls? Or is this “pons asinorum” (bridge of asses) just not worth the effort?

QUOTE OF THE MONTH:

“Happy the man, and happy he alone,
he who can call today his own:
he who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.”

- Horace (65–8 BC)

A LINK TO THE LAST FOUR YEARS OF POSTS ORGANIZED BY THEME:

ATTACHMENT BELOWS -

— Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20

YOUR TURN

Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to science, engineering, or technology. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to science and engineering.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.

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