Lost and found in tran­sit


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - I RENE SHANKS

MA­REEBA, QLD COOK­TOWN, on the Cape York penin­sula of far north Queens­land, will be the best place on earth to ob­serve the so­lar eclipse on Wed­nes­day.

Cook­town was ar­guably Aus­tralia’s first ob­ser­va­tory. In 1770, when Lieu­tenant James Cook’s En­deav­our was be­ing re­paired for six weeks in what be­came Cook­town har­bour, an as­tro­nom­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion took place to pin­point lon­gi­tude — a division of the earth first sug­gested by Eratos­thenes, who died in 194BC.

A tran­sit of Venus oc­curred in 1769, just as it did in June this year. Cook’s first voy­age was or­gan­ised to ob­serve that tran­sit. Then the En­deav­our set off to find Terra Aus­tralis Incognita.

And found it was, on April 19, 1770. Cook’s ship then trav­elled 4000km, chart­ing the east coast be­fore run­ning aground on the Great Bar­rier Reef on June 11 at about 11pm. Luck­ily, En­deav­our made it to the small har­bour (Cook­town) where re­pairs could be made.

Through a tele­scope, Cook and Mr Green, the as­tronomer, were able to con­sult the univer­sal clock sug­gested to mariners by Galileo Galilei. Mariners could not ac­cu­rately plot lon­gi­tude with­out a marine clock and many lives were lost and ships wrecked as a re­sult.

The sit­u­a­tion be­came so des­per­ate that a huge prize of £20,000 was of­fered for the first ac­cu­rate marine clock. Clock­maker John Har­ri­son worked on his so­lu­tion for more than 20 years.

The eclipse of one of Jupiter’s satel­lites on June 29, 1770, at 2.58:53am lo­cal time al­lowed Cook and Green to plot their lon­gi­tude once the almanac for Green­wich had been read. Cook cal­cu­lated their lon­gi­tude at 214 de­grees 42 min­utes 30 sec­onds west of Green­wich and lat­i­tude 15 de­grees 26 min­utes south — a small mar­gin of er­ror in the 14,500km dis­tance be­tween what be­came Cook­town and Lon­don.

Cook and Green had ob­served a satel­lite to find lon­gi­tude and so could be said to have made the first use in Aus­tralia of satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion. Where would the mod­ern trav­eller be with­out it? Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to our Fol­low the Reader col­umn. Pub­lished colum­nists will re­ceive a Lem­nis Pharox So­lar Kit. Ideal for out­door ad­ven­tures, this nifty de­vice is both an en­ergy-ef­fi­cient por­ta­ble light and a charger for de­vices such as phones and iPods. Charge via elec­tric­ity be­fore you leave or on the road with the in­cluded mini so­lar panel. $49.95. More: 1300 LEM­NIS; lem­nis­light­ing.com.au.

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