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In Our Time: Science



Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the search for Longitude while at sea. Following efforts by other maritime nations, the British Government passed the Longitude Act in 1714 to reward anyone who devised reliable means for ships to determine their longitude at sea. Mariners could already calculate how far they were north or south, the Latitude, using the Pole Star, but voyaging across the Atlantic to the Caribbean was much less predictable as navigators could not be sure how far east or west they were, a particular problem when heading for islands. It took fifty years of individual genius and collaboration in Britain and across Europe, among astronomers, clock makers, mathematicians and sailors, for the problem to be resolved.


Rebekah Higgitt
Principal Curator of Science at National Museums Scotland

Jim Bennett
Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum


Simon Schaffer
Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson