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By David Rooney on

Taking Aluna

Before people used chronometers for maritime navigation there was another way. It was called the lunar-distance method, or ‘taking a lunar’:

Taking a lunar distance, 1891 (Science Museum / Science & Society)
'Taking a lunar distance', 1891 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

This was all about observing the moon’s position at night compared to certain reference stars, and then doing a whole lot of arithmetic. The key gadget was the sextant, which measured angular distance. Here’s one from our extensive collection:

Sextant by Casella (Science Museum / Science & Society)
Sextant by Casella (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Using the moon to help solve an earthly problem led to countless lives being saved at sea and, indirectly, to the huge changes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in trade, travel and mobility.

In the twenty-first century we’re faced with the consequences of those changes, and one way to help make sense of it all is to think longer-term. This is where looking at the moon comes back into the story. One of the musicians at last month’s ‘Longplayer’ performance was the inspirational Laura Williams:

Laura Williams of Aluna at Longplayer Live (David Rooney)
Laura Williams of 'Aluna' at Longplayer Live (David Rooney)

Laura is building a monumental lunar clock called ‘Aluna’, to help prompt further conversations about the future and our place in it. She’s got a stellar cast of patrons, endorsers and supporters who think what she’s doing is really important, and I think so too.

On Wednesday, Laura was made a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, joining a body founded in 1631 – truly a long-term project. I’ve said it before: we need Aluna, and projects like it. Here’s to their long future!

One comment on “Taking Aluna

  1. Taking Aluna – fascinating stuff, would love to know more – I thoroughly enjoy the bitesize info that you post on fb – thanks !

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