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When the sun is crossing the meridian of the boat, it is straight south or north of the boat and at its highest altitude

over the horizon for the day. The local meridian time is 12:00 (plus or minus up to 16 min, depending on the time

of year).

At that moment, assuming we know the UTC time precisely, we read in the Almanac the coordinates

(Dec and GHA) of the suns GP. The suns GHA at noon (local meridian time) coincides with the longitude of our

boat. Its Declination is the latitude of the suns GP.

Knowing the suns Declination, i.e. the latitude (north or south of the equator) of the suns GP, and measuring with

the sextant how far north or south of the suns GP we are, we can calculate our own latitude. For instance, if the

suns GP is north of the equator (summer months) and we are north of the suns GP (sailing, for instance, in the

North Pacic), our latitude is simply the Declination of the sun plus our distance north of the suns GP (g. 6.1).

These calculations are discussed in the following sections.

6.1 Calculation of Latitude, given the Sun Altitude and

Declination

During a noon sight, the boat and the sun are exactly on the same meridian: the sun is either

exactly north or exactly south of the boat. At a time of the year when the sun is over the

equator (Equinox), the latitude of a boat is simply the zenith distance ZD of the sun (the

angle between the sun and the vertical, or 90 Ho; g. 6.1). The Circle of Position is centered

on the Geographic Position (GP) of the sun (g. 6.2).

In the general case, the sun is not over the equator. The latitude of the center of the Circle of

Position, i.e. the latitude of the suns GP, is simply the Declination of the sun, north or south

depending on the time of year (g. 6.3).

The latitude of the boat at noon is then:

Noon Lat. = ZD +/ Sun Dec

Equator

Z

D

N

S

GP

C

ircle of Positio

n

Fig. 6.2 Circle of Position from

a noon sight at a time of year

when the Sun is over the equator

(Equinox).

Fig. 6.3 Circle of Position from a noon

sight at a time of year when the sun is

not over the equator (general case):

The latitude of the center of the Circle of

Position (suns GP) is the latitude of the

suns GP, i.e. the suns Declination.

Equator

N

S

C

ir

c

le of Posit

io

n

GP

Z

D

Dec

Lat

Equator

Z

e

n

i

t

h

D

i

s

t

a

n

c

e

Z

D

L

a

t

i

t

u

d

e

N

S

H

o

r

iz

o

n

Ho

Sight on the Sun

G

P

Z

D

}

C

i

r

c

l

e

o

f

P

o

s

i

t

i

o

n

Fig. 6.1 Sun over the equator (Equinox):

Lat. = ZD, the Zenith Distance (ZD = 90 Ho).

50

Chapter 6: Latitude by Noon Sight

6.1.1 Scenario 1: Sun GP and boat in same hemisphere; boat outside of the

Tropics

When the boat and the sun GP are both on the same side of the equator (Boat Latitude and

sun Declination are of the same name), and when the boat is further away from the equator

than the sun GP (Lat. > Dec), the 1atitude of the boat, from a noon sight, is equal to the Zenith

Distance + the sun Declination (g. 6.1).

In the Sight Reduction Tables, is a scenario called: Dec and Lat. same name; Lat. bigger

than Dec:

Lat. (Noon Sight) = (90 Ho) + Dec = ZD + Dec

Example (Declination same name as Latitude)

The boat is in the northern hemisphere and north of the Tropic of Cancer, during the summer:

the GP of the sun is also north of the equator.

Lat. = ZD + Dec

Date and time of noon sight: July 30, 2003 at 21:24 UTC

Sextant altitude Ho at noon: 53 28.2'

a) Sun Dec (from Almanac, Appendix 2 p. A2-10)

Sun Declination @ 21:00 18 27.1' N

Change in Dec for 1h: d = 0.6'

Interpolation for 24 min

*

0.2'

Dec of the sun at 21:24 18 26.9' N

b) Zenith Distance ZD = 90 Ho

90 89 60.0'

Ho 53 28.2'

ZD 36 31.8'

c) Lat. = ZD + Dec

ZD 36 31.8'

+ Dec of sun + 18 26.9'

Latitude 54 58.7' N

6.1.2 Scenario 2: Sun GP and

boat in opposite hemispheres

This is an example of latitude and Declination with contrary names (g. 6.2). When the boat

is on one side of the equator, and the sun on the other, the latitude of the boat, during a noon

sight, is equal to ZD the Declination of the sun. In this case, called: Dec and Lat. contrary

names in the Sight Reduction Tables,

Lat. (Noon Sight) = ZD Dec

*

Estimated as a little over 1/3 of

the 0.6 min per hour; or read off

the Almanac page for 24 min,

Appendix 2 p. A2-20,

v or d column for d = 0.6.

Fig. 6.4 Sun GP and Boat in opposite

hemispheres: Lat. = ZD Dec.

Altitude H

90 - H

90 - H

Zenith

Distance

}

Declination

N

S

Equator

Sun

51

Chapter 6: Latitude by Noon Sight

6.1.3 Scenario 3: Sailing in the Tropics, the boat is between the sun and the

equator

During a sail in the tropics, the sun might be to the north of the boat, and the equator to the

south, or the other way around (g. 6.5). During a noon sight, the latitude of the boat is equal

to the Declination of the sun the Zenith Distance of the sun. In this case, called Dec and

Lat. Same names; Lat. smaller than Dec in the Sight Reduction Tables:

Lat. (Noon Sight) = Dec ZD

The formulae for calculating the latitude from a noon sight are

reproduced at the bottom of the work forms given in Appendix 1

Lat. and Dec same name, and Lat. > Dec: Lat. = ZD + Dec;

Lat. and Dec same name, and Lat. < Dec: Lat. = Dec ZD;

Lat. and Dec contrary names: Lat. = ZD Dec

6.2 Plotting the Sun Trajectory in order to

measure the Sun Altitude at Noon

The top of the trajectory of the sun though the sky around noon is fairly

at. For the observer, therefore, it is quite difcult to tell whether the

sun has reached its maximum altitude or not. A more precise estimate

of the suns maximum altitude can be obtained from a series of sights

with the sextant shortly before and after noon (g. 6.6). From the

maximum altitude of the sun, we can calculate our latitude, and from

the (not very precise) time when the maximum altitude was reached,

we can tell our approximate longitude (see Chapter 7).

6.3 Exercises

For the following sights, determine the sun Declination; The formula

(+/ ZD +/ Dec) for the calculation of the boat latitude; the suns

Zenith Distance; the latitude of the boat; its approximate longitude;

and the part of the world where the boat is sailing.

Date of the noon sight (UTC) April 21 August 22 Nov. 20

Time of the noon sight (UTC) 21:49 20:21 08:48

Approximate latitude of the boat 15 S 45 N 10 S

Sextant altitude Ho of the sun at noon 62 12.3' 57 50.7' 79 31.2'

Sun Declination

Sun Dec for the hour of sight

Change in sun Dec per hour

Interpol. of Dec for the min of sight

Sun Dec for exact the time of sight

1

9

:

0

0

1

9

:

3

0

2

0

:

0

0

2

0

:

3

0

2

1

:

0

0

H

Altitude of sun

above horizon

Greenwich Time (UTC)

Sun at the highest point

above the horizon at

20:11 UTC (12:11 local)

66

65

64

63

Fig. 6.6 A series of sun shots in the late morning,

around noon, and in the early afternoon provide

a reasonably accurate measure of the maximum

altitude of the sun.

Z

d = 90- H

}

Equator

Sun

D

E

C

L

IN

A

T

IO

N

N

S

A

L

T

ITIDUE H

L

A

T

Fig. 6.5 Boat in the tropics; sun further away

from the equator than the boat: Lat. = Dec ZD.

52

Chapter 6: Latitude by Noon Sight

Zenith Distance

90 89 60.0' 89 60.0' 89 60.0'

Ho

ZD

Formula

Dec and Lat. Same or Contrary names

If same names, Lat. > or < than Dec

Formula for Lat. (+/ ZD +/ Dec)

Latitude of boat

ZD or Dec

+/ Dec or ZD

Boat latitude

Approximate longitude of boat (@ 15/h, assuming the sun crossed the Greenwich Meridian at

exactly 12:00 UTC), and area of sailing

Approximate longitude

Area of Sailing

Answers:

Sun Declination

Sun Dec for the hour of sight 11 56.4' N 11 42.8' N 19 37.1' S

Change in sun Dec per hour (+0.9' per 60 min) (0.8' per 60 min) (+0.6' per 60 min)

Interpolation of Dec for the min of sight + 0.7' 0.3' + 0.5'

Sun Dec for exact the time of sight 11 57.1' N 11 42.5' N 19 37.6' S

Zenith Distance

90 89 60.0' 89 60.0' 89 60.0'

Ho 62 12.3' 57 50.7' 79 31.2'

ZD 27 47.7' 32 09.3' 10 28.8'

Formula

Dec and Lat. Same or Contrary names Contrary Same Same

If same names, Lat. > or < than Dec > <

Formula for Lat. (+/ ZD +/ Dec) ZD Dec ZD + Dec Dec ZD

Latitude of boat

ZD or Dec 27 47.7' 32 09.3' 19 37.6'

+/ Dec or ZD 11 57.1' + 11 42.5' 10 28.8'

Boat latitude 15 50.6' S 43 51.8' N 09 08.8' S

Approximate longitude of boat (@ 15/h, assuming the sun crossed the Greenwich Meridian at

exactly 12:00 UTC), and area of sailing

Approximate longitude 147 W 125 W 048 E

Area of Sailing Tahiti off Oregon Coast Seychelles

53

Chapter 6: Latitude by Noon Sight

6.4 Review Exercise: Traditional plotting method,

before Marcq Saint Hilaire

The traditional Celestial Navigation method for plotting a boat location

on a world chart is to draw circles of position centered on the Geographic

Positions of the sun a few hours apart, with a radius equal to 90 Ho. The

GPs of the sun (or any celestial object) are determined from the Nautical

Almanac, and Ho is, for each sight, the height of the sun, measured with

the sextant (Sections 1.4 and 1.7).

The purpose of this exercise is to illustrate the method and show its

shortcomings. As mentioned at the end of Section 1.4, the main drawback

of this approach is the lack of precision of the boat position determined

from the intersection of circles which, typically, have radii of several

thousand of nautical miles. The Marcq Saint Hilaire method, described

in the following sections together with the associated Sight Reduction

Tables, alleviates the problem by comparing the suns altitude above

the horizon, as measured with the sextant, and the altitude calculated

from the Sight Reduction Tables. This Calculated Altitude Hc tells the

navigator at what height the sun would be above the horizon if the boat

were exactly at its assumed position. The difference between the

measured and calculated altitudes, in minutes of angle, is simply the

distance, in nautical miles, between the assumed position and the real

line of position.

The exercise relies on the traditional morning, noon, and afternoon sights,

and on the type of plotting used until the end of the 19th century when

the Marcq Saint Hilaire method became widely used. There are no sights

on Polaris since, in the Southern Hemisphere, the star is not visible and

cannot be used to determine latitude.

54

Chapter 6: Latitude by Noon Sight

Exercise: While exploring the South Pacic in 1769, Captain Cook took

the following sights on the sun:

1. At 19:00 UTC, June 21: Ho = 30

2. At 22:00 UTC, June 21: Ho = 48

3. At 01:00 UTC, June 22: Ho = 30

Without using any table, and rounding off angles and times to the nearest

degree or hour, plot the lines and circles of position on the world chart

given next page, and determine Captain Cooks position.

Answer: On June 21 and 22, during the summer solstice, the sun

Declination is at its maximum, a little over 23 N (Section 4.1). At 19:00

UTC, the suns GP is therefore at Lat. 23 N. Assuming that the sun crossed

the Greenwich Meridian at 12:00 UTC on that day, we can see that it has

travelled (19:00 12:00) x 15/h = 105 W by the time we take the morning

sight at 19:00 UTC. The longitude of the suns GP is therefore 105 W.

During the afternoon sight, the suns GP is again at Lat. 23 N. In order

to calculate its longitude, we note that, at 01:00 UTC, the sun has 11

hours to go before reaching the meridian of Greenwich at 12:00. The sun

is therefore over the meridian at longitude 11 x 15/h = 165 E.

The noon sight is taken when the sun is highest above the southern

horizon, at 22:00 UTC. At that time, the sun crosses the boat meridian.

It has travelled 22:00 12:00 = 10 hours since it crossed the Greenwich

Meridian, and it is therefore over a meridian at 10:00 x 15/h = 150

longitude W. This is the longitude of the boat.

The latitude of the boat from the noon sight is the Zenith Distance

adjusted for the Declination of the sun, i.e. ZD Dec. (Section 6.1.2) =

(90 48) 23 = 19 S.

If we trace two circles of position centered on the parallel of 23 N, and

on the longitudes of 105 W and 165 E, with radii of (90 30) x 60'/ =

3,600' or 3,600 NM, we note that they intersect just south of Tahiti. The

latitude is 19 S, and the longitude 150 W (g. 6.7).

55

g. 6.7

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