Navigation

The word navigate comes from the Latin words for ship (navis) and 'to drive or guide' (agere). See how fast you can navigate your way through this exhibition.

Navigation
image by Ghinzo

The Global Positioning System (GPS) has made it easy for anyone to determine where they are in the world, but explorers like Columbus had to use celestial navigation, maps, and a compass. Celestial navigation is the art and science of navigating by the stars, sun, moon, and planets.

The easiest star to navigate by is the North Star (Polaris). It is always just above the North Pole. It can be seen from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Using the North Star, a navigator can keep a steady course east or west by making sure that it stays at the same place above the horizon. In the Southern Hemisphere, a constellation called the Southern Cross is used the same way.

The first Western civilization known to have developed the art of navigation at sea were the Phoenicians, about 4,000 years ago, using primitive charts and observations of the Sun and stars to determine directions. However, mariners remained essentially coastal navigators until the fifteenth century