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Sun May 26, 2013, 04:31 PM

Opinion: How the Prime Meridian Changed the World [View all]

Indeed, before the Guide and Almanac, the world had a deadly longitude problem. Navigation at sea was extremely difficult, resulting in countless disasters and disappearances over the centuries because ships' captains simply could not figure out where they were.

For instance, on Oct. 22, 1707, more than 1,400 British sailors died because a storm caused the fleet's navigators to lose their location; then the navigators and naval officers mistook the craggy archipelago on which the fleet wrecked for the western entrance to the English Channel.

But by the spring of 1763, after decades of hardscrabble observations and calculations, astronomers had finally cracked the code to predict the moon's meandering path across the sky. No mere academic exercise, this breakthrough would enable mariners around the world to locate their longitude at sea—turning the moon into the world's first global positioning satellite.

Though he was not the first scientist who attempted to resolve the longitude issue, Maskelyne was the first to put forward a practical solution, one that wound up being so good it effectively enshrined Greenwich as the prime meridian for the entire world, says Rebekah Higgitt, curator of history of science and technology at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Thus he was, she says, "very central to creating Greenwich as it has come to be known.


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ismnotwasm May 2013 OP
pkdu May 2013 #1
pokerfan May 2013 #2
ismnotwasm May 2013 #3