Navigating by the Moon, Planets, and Stars

The Nautical Almanac is one of the longest-running publications in the Federal Government, dating back to 1852. It’s also one of the most distinctive-looking books I’ve ever seen.  The covers are orange and made of a stiff board-like material, and the cover graphics certainly look like they date back to 1852. Between those covers lie the complex mathematical tables that, “along with the chronometer, the sextant, a steady hand and a keen eye, are the resources needed to navigate by the stars.” Honestly, the contents mean less than nothing to a non-math person, but what images they conjure up for a history person! Old salts striding across a ship’s deck, sextant in hand, getting ready to round the Horn – well, you get the idea.

The Almanac is a unique example of a Government publication produced by two countries – the United States Naval Observatory (USNO) and Her Majesty’s Nautical Almanac Office (HNMAO). Also unique is that the U.S. part of the Almanac is in the public domain, but the British part is under Crown Copyright.

The Nautical Almanac is one of a number of almanacs published by the U.S. Naval Observatory: the Astronomical Almanac, the Air Almanac, and Astronomical Phenomena. Together, they provide a corpus of navigational knowledge that spans the centuries but is still the ultimate backup to the GPS technology of today.

I wonder if they’ll ever change those orange covers?

13 Responses to Navigating by the Moon, Planets, and Stars

  1. […] are critical tools to aid commercial and private navigation by both air or water (Read our post: “Navigating by the Moon, Planets, and Stars” for more […]


  2. stefan smalley says:

    I am in fact delighted to glance at this website posts which contains
    plenty of useful facts, thanks for providing these kinds of information.


  3. Joshua says:

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  4. Scott Tucker says:

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  5. Marek says:

    Astronomical Phenomena is the book I am going to order. The price (international) is not high, that’s good. I hope it’s written with not so complicated language – English is not my native and the topic sounds great for me. I hope I will be able to read it 🙂


    • govbooktalk says:

      Marek: According to the Naval Observatory, which publishes it, “This small, useful booklet contains general interest material preprinted from The Astronomical Almanac. It is published jointly by the U.S. Naval Observatory and Her Majesty’s Nautical Almanac Office two years in advance of its date. It includes such things as:

      dates for Solar equinoxes, solstices, phases of the Moon
      eclipse maps
      dates for various planetary phenomena
      visibility and magnitudes of the planets
      dates for some religious and civil holidays
      chronological eras and cycles
      the equation of time and declination of the Sun
      sunrise/set, moonrise/set times
      the position of Polaris. “


  6. Michelle says:

    Thank You Daniel Cornwall for the link.:)


  7. Michelle says:

    Amazing math and history I am enlightened of the fact that the US and Her Majesty has part in the Almanac. amazing finding information such as this long before the wars. The photos at first glance look like passports. I must take a look inside and gather more insight. thanks for all your grate books and for letting us share our thoughts. love stars and plants mother earth is so amazing high above *Michelle


  8. If people would like to “try before they buy”, visit one of the 820 libraries around the country that hold this item. See for a list of holding libraries.


  9. Rainer Prieschl says:

    Happy to learn that these sort of basic knowledge is still existing in form of books: who knows how long satellites shall be working…By th way, thanks for all the interesting talk inputs: very pleasant.


  10. HIS/HER IMPERIAL HIGHNESS: Martha Anne Clump 618423 (DIN) - Christopher Alan Green 9261142 (DIN) says:

    The must for anybody who uses a telescope to find optional sources of scientific entertainment and learing from the lens of a telescope to the lens of a microscope…

    Tired of seeing a child becoming hooked upon narcotics to only see them only sleep it off in the dog house…?

    This publication just might spark their interest in “learning” and not “burning” the church down…


  11. govbooktalk says:

    Wow, thanks for the instant reaction! Just click on any of the titles and it will take you to a page on GPO’s online bookstore where you can order the book.

    Note: These books are all basically tables of numbers, so they’re not really something for kids. A teenager with some math backgound might be able to use them.


  12. joe hinds says:

    Fantastic find. I would love to buy a copy of the book if possible. What a great gift from a young kid interested in the stars.
    Let me know please. Thanks—Jow Hinds


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