‘A Practical Skill that was Without Equal’: Carsten Niebuhr and the Navigational Astronomy of the Arabian Journey, 1761–7
Carsten Niebuhr was the astronomer/cartographer for the Danish expedition to Arabia in 1761–7. He established the practicality of Tobias Mayer’s lunar distance method for determining longitude, which became the predominant basis for the determination of longitude in the last decades of the eighteenth century. Niebuhr was also a pioneer in the application of astronomy to hydrography as demonstrated in his charts of the Nile Delta, Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Shatt el Arab. He is noted for the precision of his work which was exceptional for the times. However, Niebuhr’s accomplishments in navigational astronomy, and their significance have largely gone unrecognized.