Introduction

Humans have been navigating for ages. As we developed the tools and techniques for determining location and planning a route, navigation grew into a practice, an art, and a science. Navigational skill has long been tied to commercial, economic, and military success. However, the ability to predict when and where one will reach a distant destination is more than just a key to empire-building — it’s often a matter of life and death.

Using video, text, infographics, and Worldwide Telescope tours, we will explore the tools and techniques that navigators have used, with a particular focus on the importance (and difficulty) of measuring longitude. Grounded in the principles of position, direction, speed, and time, we will learn the challenges of navigating without a GPS signal. We’ll learn how the Age of Exploration and the economic forces of worldwide trade encouraged scientific progress in navigation; and how Jupiter’s moons, lunar eclipses, and clockmakers all played a part in orienting history’s navigators.

Centuries of progress in navigation have helped put humans on the moon and spacecraft on a comet. This course will explain how we got there, and how that progress enables you to get where you’re going today.

Meet The Faculty

Alyssa Goodman

Alyssa Goodman

Robert Wheeler Willson Professor of Applied Astronomy; Founding Director, Initiative in Innovative Computing, Harvard University

Alyssa Goodman is a physicist by training (Sc.B, MIT 1984, PhD, Harvard 1989), but an artist at heart. She combines her passions for science and art with interests in computing, archaeology, the history of science, and new technologies in her work, which spans astrophysics, data visualization, and new approaches to STEM education. She was named “Scientist of the Year” by the Harvard Foundation in 2015. The PredictionX effort began during Goodman’s sabbatical as “Scholar-in-Residence” at the WGBH media organization in Boston, and crystallized into the highly collaborative project you see today when HarvardX committed to creating re-usable, modular, online, multi-media content.

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