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Issue No.03 - July-September (2003 vol.25)
pp: 48-61
Mary Croarken , University of Warwick
ABSTRACT
<p>The question of how to accurately find longitude at sea was hotly debated in the mid-1700s. This article describes the lunar distance method, promoted by Nevil Maskelyne, the British Astronomer Royal. In 1767, Maskelyne began publishing the Nautical Almanac, which contained astronomical tables prepared by a small network of human computers during the period 1765-1809. This article will describe the computing system Maskelyne created to compute the necessary tables.</p>
CITATION
Mary Croarken, "Tabulating the Heavens: Computing the Nautical Almanac in 18th-Century England", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.25, no. 3, pp. 48-61, July-September 2003, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2003.1226655
REFERENCES
1. For example, J. Betts, Harrison, National Maritime Museum, London, 1993; W. Andrews, ed., The Quest for Longitude, Harvard Univ., 1996; D. Sobel, Longitude, Fourth Estate, 1996; "Longitude," a television program made by Granada television and shown on UK Channel Four on 2 Jan. 2000 and 3 Jan. 2000.
2. Data gained from the Economic History Web site at http://eh.nethmit/ (accessed 10 Jan. 2002).
3. J. Millburn, Retailer of the Sciences: Benjamin Martin's Scientific Instrument Catalogues 1756-1782, Vade-Mecum Press, 1986, and Adams of Fleet Street, Ashgate, 2000.
4. The general principle of the lunar distance method was outlined in J. Werner, Nova translatio primi libri geographiac C. Ptolemaeic, Nürnberg, 1514, but the fundamental data necessary was not then available.
5. E.G. Forbes, "Tobias Mayer (1723-62): A Forgotten Genius," British J. History of Science, vol. 5, no. 17, 1970, pp. 1-20; and "Tobias Mayer's Lunar Tables," Annals of Science, vol. 22, no. 2, 1966, pp. 105-116.
6. E.G. Forbes, The Birth of Scientific Navigation, Maritime Museum Monograph No. 10, National Maritime Museum, London, 1974, p. 7.
7. N. Maskelyne, The British Mariner's Guide containing complete and easy instructions for the discovery of longitude at sea…, London, 1763.
8. D. Howse, "The Lunar-Distance Method of Measuring Longitude," The Quest for Longitude, W. Andrews, ed., Harvard University, 1996, pp. 149-161.
9. N. Maskelyne, The British Mariner's Guide containing complete and easy instructions for the discovery of longitude at sea…, London, 1763, pp. iv-v.
10. Minutes of the Board of Longitude, 9 Feb. 1765, Cambridge Univ. Library Manuscripts Room, RGO 14/5, folio 78-79.
11. James Launder, James Stephens, Robert Scott, and John Horsely.
12. George III, 1765, cap XX, Longitude Act.
13. Rev. Dr. Richard Long, Lowndes Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge; Edward Waring, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge; Anton Shepard, Plumian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge; Mr. Betts, Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford; Thomas Hornsby, Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford.
14. The equation of time is a correction used to convert apparent time (that is, time regulated by the sun's movement) to mean time (that is, the regular division of time used in clocks).
15. Observations needed to be corrected to take into account refraction (the effects of light bending as it enters the earth's atmosphere) and parallax (the difference between the apparent direction of a celestial object as viewed from the earth's surface and the direction when calculated from the earth's center).
16. Tables Requisite to be used with the Astronomical and Nautical Ephemeris was first published in 1767, the second edition in 1781, the third in 1802.
17. S.L. Chapin, "Lalande and the Longitude: A Little Known London Voyage of 1763," Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, vol. 32, no. 2, Mar. 1978, pp. 165-180, and D. Howse, Nevil Maskelyne: The Seaman's Astronomer, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989, p. 47.
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19. Minutes of the Board of Longitude, 30 May 1765, Cambridge Univ. Library Manuscripts Room, RGO 14/4, folio 93.
20. John Croker speaking in a British parliamentary debate 6 Mar. 1818, p. 877 in T.C. Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, Vol. XXXVIII, London, 1818. Also D.H. Sadler, Man Is Not Lost, Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO), London, 1968.
21. Minutes of the Board of Longitude, 18 July 1765, Cambridge Univ. Library Manuscripts Room, RGO 14/5, folio 105.
22. Minutes of the Board of Longitude, Sept. 1766, Cambridge Univ. Library Manuscripts Room, RGO 14/5, folio 113.
23. N. Maskelyne, The British Mariner's Guide containing complete and easy instructions for the discovery of longitude at sea…, London, 1763.
24. Preserved as RGO 4/216 in the Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives in Cambridge Univ. Library.
25. Diary of Nautical Almanac work, Cambridge Univ. Library Manuscript Room, RGO 4/324, folio 35.
26. Diary of Nautical Almanac work, Cambridge Univ. Library Manuscript Room, RGO 4/324, folio 71-79.
27. M. Hitchins to J. Moore9 Aug. 1788, Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of Joshua Moore, MMC-2121.
28. Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of Joshua Moore, MMC-2121. Letters from M. Hitchins to J. Crosley, British Library Manuscripts, Add. Ms. 16,947, folio 30-33.
29. Minutes of the Board of Longitude 13 Jan. 1767, Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives, Cambridge Univ. Library, RGO 14/5 folio 188.
30. Letter from M. Hitchins to J. Moore, 2 May 1788, Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of Joshua Moore, MMC-2121.
31. Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of Joshua Moore, MMC-2121.
32. Letters from M. Hitchins to J. Moore, 17 Nov. 1792 and 26 Jan. 1793, Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of Joshua Moore, MMC-2121.
33. M. Croarken, Early Scientific Computing in Britain, Clarendon Press, 1990.
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