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27 April 2006

H1 at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich

H1, ticking relentlessly and precisely away, for your viewing thrill, at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England UK, in a building designed by Christopher Wren. This machine saved the lives of thousands of sailors; before H1, their lives were doomed, and as they did their duty aboard ship on the world's oceans, they knew it. The Royal Navy's best navigators knew precisely how far North or South they were, but had only vague and hazy clues to where their ships were East/West.

At the very heart of this machine are gears of Lignum Vitae wood -- self-lubricating, it exudes its own lubricating oil. It is possible that Gould's restoration (circa 1930) used Harrison's original Lignum Vitae gears.

Gould actually found that some of Harrison's H1 mechanisms were not necessary to perform the chronometer's sole function: Keeping perfect time anywhere on the surface of Earth, on wild rolling seas, in any humidity and temperature, from the Antarctic or Arctic Oceans to the Funda Straits.

H2, next to it, is better and smaller. By H3, I think Harrison had shrunk the amazing Time Machine to the size of a gentleman's pocket watch.

The scientifically educated men of the Admiralty and the Royal Observatory who had to judge Harrison's work found it impossible to believe that a pocket watch could determine a ship's precise Longitude on the other side of the planet. They attributed H3's capabilities to some sort of clever fraud, or perhaps some sort of magicke or witchcraft.

Harrison, after all, was an unschooled self-taught clockmaker, originally just a carpenter from the north of England. Harrison's lifetime of frustration to win the Longitude prize reeks of the ugliest kind of class snobbery and prejudice.

Does H1 work? Go to Greenwich, gaze at this sublime machine, check what it says against your own digital watch or atomic-time wristwatch. If the two don't agree, you better get your wristwatch checked, or reset the correct time. H1 will have the correct time.

Sailors' lives were at stake, and the English scientific and military establishment could only see that Harrison was not a Gentleman.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jim Olson said...

Oh, I just can't wait to go. I first read about the Harrison clocks in my first navigation class...they are what rendered that fascinating bit of nav equipment I gave you most useful. Navigators have long been able to tell simple latitude with a sexton, marking their position daily at noon (when the sun is highest in the sky). Harrison's Chronometers made it possible to make tables that you could calculate your longitude based on the positions of various stars, the exact time of day or night, and your known latitude. Within two years of H3, the Royal Astronomers had devised simple navigation tables that were accurate even in the 18th c. to within just a few minutes. There have been periodic corrections, mostly to account for celestial drift (stars do move slightly...) but the tables in use today are largely unchanged from the ones in use in the 18th. c. If you ever want some fascinating reading, go online and look for Bowditch's Celestial Navigation Tables.

22:30  
Blogger Jim Olson said...

Oh, I just can't wait to go. I first read about the Harrison clocks in my first navigation class...they are what rendered that fascinating bit of nav equipment I gave you most useful. Navigators have long been able to tell simple latitude with a sexton, marking their position daily at noon (when the sun is highest in the sky). Harrison's Chronometers made it possible to make tables that you could calculate your longitude based on the positions of various stars, the exact time of day or night, and your known latitude. Within two years of H3, the Royal Astronomers had devised simple navigation tables that were accurate even in the 18th c. to within just a few minutes. There have been periodic corrections, mostly to account for celestial drift (stars do move slightly...) but the tables in use today are largely unchanged from the ones in use in the 18th. c. If you ever want some fascinating reading, go online and look for Bowditch's Celestial Navigation Tables.

22:31  

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