What is a sextant?
A sextant is an instrument used to measure the angle between two visible objects. It is primarily used as a navigational instrument to determine the elevation of a celestial body above the horizon thereby allowing the observer to calculate a line of position (LOP) on the surface of the earth. With only one LOP, a navigator can be sure that his position is on that line somewhere, but he cannot know for sure where on that line he is. By combining additional LOPs (triangulation), navigators are able to determine their exact latitude and longitude.
The sextant is part of a family of instruments with similar design and look and use. It is basically called a sextant because of the angle of the arc which is 60o and one sixth in latin is sextāns. Whereas the octant is at 45o and that is one eighth of a circle also the quintant and the quadrant are one fifth and one quarter or 72o and 90o
A sextant is a navigational instrument that sights upon the stars to determine a ship's position. This instrument was crucial to naval navigation until global positioning became a reality in the late 20th century. "Henry the Navigator prized his sextant while on his journeys to the New World." "The ship's position is determined by the use of the ship's navigator using a sextant."
Which improvement in navigation technology allowed sailors to use celestial bodies to determine latitude?
Historically, latitude was always measured with the sextant, and longitude with the chronograph (clock). Nowadays, it's all GPS. ------------------- The "sextant", from the latin word for "six", is one-sixth of a circle, and is the primary tool used in celestial navigation. However, before the sextant came into widespread use, the "quadrant" of a quarter-circle and the later "octant", an eighth of a circle, were used.