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Staring at the Sun

Jan 1, 2003

STARING AT THE SUN is our job. Not only does celestial navigation give one a fail-safe system of navigation (no need to rely on those flaky electrons), it also gives one a leg-up during a solar eclipse.

At Navigator Publishing, we share an old brick building in downtown Portland with an architectural design firm. Tuesday, May 10th found the employees of both companies clustered on the roof trying to get a good look at the annular solar eclipse that reached totality at 1:42 EDT.

The architects, familiar with drawing, designing, and sometimes even building models to garner a commission, transformed a couple of cardboard boxes into pinhole cameras for a safe, if uninspiring view of the proceedings.

However, since taking a sun sight does require that one actually look at the sun, sextants are, of course, equipped with shades to protect the user's eye from damage. Thus, while the architects fumbled with their pinhole cameras, we unboxed our sextants and comfortably viewed the envelopment of the sun. It didn't take long for our exclamations of delight at the spectacle to draw the attention of the architects. Soon, the pinhole cameras were abandoned, except for one stalwart holdout, and we handed over our sextants for general use.

When the moon was in position, it covered roughly 85% of the sun's disk, leaving a brilliant ring only 1.2' wide that circled the darkened moon. At Portland, we were closer to the southern edge of the band of totality, so we saw the moon slightly off-center.

With a sun sight yielding only a single LOP, navigators are always happy to have the moon up during the day for crossing with a sun line and getting a fix. Unfortunately, we had no visible horizon, so we were unable to nail down the sights. No matter, somehow we think the crossing angle would not have been the greatest.


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