August 30, 2018 10:10 pm

Friday, Take to the Seas and Follow the Stars as Neil deGrasse Tyson Explores Celestial Navigation with Nainoa Thompson

“At night we name every star,
We know where we are,
We know who we are…”

On this week’s episode of StarTalk Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson takes to the sea alongside master navigator and explorer Nainoa Thompson, comic co-host Maeve Higgins, navigation expert Frank Reed, and primatologist Natalia Reagan as we explore celestial navigation and how the stars have guided us throughout history.

Newportm’s photo of a recreation of a Mau Piailug star-compass depicted with shells on sand, with Satawalese (See Trukic languages) text labels, as described by the Polynesian Voyaging Society, via Wikimedia Commons.

A photograph of a recreation of the star compass of Mau Piailug depicted with shells on sand, with Satawalese (See Trukic languages) text labels, as described by the Polynesian Voyaging Society. By Newportm [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons.

We’re not talking about GPS navigation or using detailed maps. We’re talking about using nature to help find our way. You’ll hear Nainoa explain how he uses the stars and many other factors to journey from Hawaii to Tahiti, about 2,400 miles of open ocean, in a replica of a traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe. In studio, Neil, Frank, and Maeve discuss the use of sextants and how and why the Apollo missions had a sextant onboard their spacecraft.

Then, author Dava Sobel stops by to discuss the “longitude problem” – a problem that plagued 18th century sailors – and to tell us the story behind the man that solved it. We also hear from primatologist and StarTalk All-Stars host Natalia Reagan as she helps us understand that humans have been migrating and exploring since the moment we stood upright.

We also discuss the recent Disney film Moana. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely one of the brightest, most thoughtful animated films of the past ten years. And it’s also where our lyrics at the top of the page come from. Although the storyline follows familiar Disney patterns, it stands out amongst the rest because of the characters it follows and the world it creates.

All that, plus, we answer fan-submitted Cosmic Queries about navigation at the speed of light, how the Voyager spacecraft navigated, and whether if you were to become lost in space, you could ever find your way back to Earth.

Please join us tomorrow night for The Stars That Guide Us, with Nainoa Thompson at 7pm ET right here on our website, as well as on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and TuneIn. If you’re an All-Access subscriber, you can listen to this episode ad-free at 7pm, too.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Ian Mullen

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