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Solar and Celestial Observations for Direction and Position Determination

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Solar and celestial observations have always been an important aspect of surveying; they have played a crucial role in society ever since people traveled beyond their traditional communities and started wondering where they were. Solar and celestial observations have been used to determine the Mason-Dixon Line, the true North for Public Land Surveys, the direction of Mecca, and many other boundaries and places on Earth. It is precisely because solar and celestial observations play such an important role in determining position and direction that surveyors should know the history behind them and how to perform them, should the need arise. This paper takes an in-depth look at the history of solar and celestial observations and then goes on to discuss the instruments and procedures used to perform such observations. Finally the paper discusses methods of calculating direction using observed data.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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  • Surveying and Land Information Science (SaLIS) is the official publication of the American Association of Geodetic Surveying (AAGS) and the Geographic and Land Information Society (GLIS).

    SaLIS is a scientific journal devoted to reporting research and new work conducted to advance geodetic surveying, land surveying, large-scale mapping, and geographic information systems designed to advance the development and management of the cadastral parcel data layer and other land information applications. SaLIS publishes research articles, technical papers, technical notes, papers on the current state of surveying education, surveying history, book reviews, and current literature reviews. Every four years, the journal publishes the U.S. Report to the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG). The Proceedings of the Surveying Teachers Conference are published bi-annually.

    For information about AAGS visit
    For information about GLIS visit

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