Romancing the Stars

[Odysseus] never closed his eyes, but kept them fixed on the Pleiades, on late-setting Bootes, and on the Bear – which men also call the Wain, and which turns round and round where it is, facing Orion, and alone never dipping into the stream of Oceanus – for Calypso had told him to keep this to his left.

The Odyssey (Book 5) Homer

Celestial navigation is as old as the stars (I apologise, I couldn’t resist the pun!). The night sky was used as a navigation tool long before compasses were invented, and it helped most of the ancient explorers gad about the globe without maps. Even today, anyone who doesn’t trust Apple Maps knows how to orient themselves using Polaris in the northern hemisphere and the Southern Cross in the south.

But, like a lot of things we think we’re pretty good at, animals figured it out long before we did. Quite a few interesting experiments have shown that birds or animals can navigate using the stars and now, the dung beetle has become the first insect proven to navigate by the stars (although, maybe the ancient Egyptians already knew this when they elevated the dung-rolling scarab to sacred status?).

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