In the Northern Hemisphere, you can also use your inclinometer to determine your latitude, your angular distance from the equator.
On a clear night, find the North Star (also known as Polaris). The easiest way to find the North Star is to find the Big Dipper. An imaginary arrow drawn through the two stars that form the end of the Big Dipper's bowl will point to the North Star, which is at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. The North Star is always located between the Big Dipper and the constellation Cassiopeia. In the Northern Hemisphere, these constellations never set. Like the North Star, they are always in the sky on a clear night.
Sight on the North Star with your inclinometer. The angular height of the North Star, in degrees, is your latitude. The North Pole is at 90 degrees north latitude. Someone standing at the North Pole would have to look straight up to see the North Star.
You can also use your inclinometer to measure the altitude of the sun. The technique is different, because you must never look at the sun! Instead, hold the inclinometer at about waist level, and aim the tube at the sun. Make sure the string and washer hang freely. Hold your other hand below the tube, and adjust the position of the cylinder until the sun shines right through the tube and onto your hand. When the inclinometer is in this position, its angle is that of the sun’s altitude. Check the sun’s altitude at noon (or another hour) at different times of the year, or over the course of a day, to see how it changes with time.
This Science Snack is part of a collection that showcases female mathematicians and math educators whose work aids or expands our understanding of the phenomena explored in each Snack.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Katherine Johnson (pictured above) was a mathematician and scientist who helped calculate our way to the stars. Johnson referred to her first department at NASA as the “computers who wore skirts,” a group of women doing the math for space exploration. In 1962, astronaut John Glenn told NASA that he would only go on his mission to orbit the Earth if Johnson confirmed the calculations from NASA’s computers. She provided the crucial orbit trajectories and went on to calculate them for 26 other missions including those to the moon and to Mars. With the Science Snack Height Sight, you can create a simple tool called an inclinometer that can be used to measure the height of distant objects such as the Sun.