Who Wanted to be a Millionaire?
The 1714 Longitude Contest
the great ages of exploration, 'the longitude problem' was the gravest
of scientific challenges. Lacking the ability to determine their longitude,
sailors were literally lost at seas as soon as they lost sight of land.
Ships ran aground on rocky shores, those traveling well-known routes
were easy prey to pirates.
"In 1714, England's Parliament offered a huge reward to anyone
whose method of measuring longitude could be proven successful. (The
prize was worth several million dollars in today's currency.) The scientific
establishment--from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton--had mapped the heavens,
in its certainty of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man dared
to imagine a mechanical solution--a clock that would keep precise time
at seas, something no clock had been able to do on land. And the race
from the book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved
the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. By Dava Sobel, Penguin
Learn about John Harrison, an English clockmaker, who solved the Longitude
Problem by developing a clock that would keep precise time at sea. With
that clock, sailors could know what time it was on board and at home when
a single event took place on board (i.e. when the sun reached its highest
point in the sky). And by knowing the difference in hours and minutes
between the two times, they could then calculate their longitude.
Check your library for this book, and consider it for class reading
Have your students think about the longitude problem of that age. Ask
them why was a solution to this problem so critical?
Try This! Have students imagine themselves as sailors setting sail on
the sea and trying to reach a destination. If they had tools such as
maps with latitude and longitude lines, a compass, and the stars and
the wind to help them navigate, why were they still be unable to determine
Have your students think about the present day. What do they think is
the greatest scientific challenge of today? Why?
more information about this important scientific discovery, visit these
Online: Longitude and Navigation information including Teacher's
Guide, resources, secrets of ancient navigators and more!
video: "Lost at Sea: The Search for Longitude" (call
World in Spatial Terms
How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools,
and technologies to acquire, process, and report information.
- How to
analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments
on Earth's surface.
- The characteristics,
distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface.
- The patterns
and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface.
numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers,
and number systems.
fluently and make reasonable estimates.
new mathematical knowledge through problem solving.
and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics.
Science Education Standards
and Space Science
in the sky have patterns of movement. The sun, for example, appears
to move across the sky in the same way every day. (K-4)
- Most objects
in the solar system are in regular and predictable motion. Those motions
explain phenomena such as the day, the year, phases of the moon, and
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