Just how do you navigate in open waters without a compass when it is cloudy? Sunstones have been proposed. In theory you can use polarization of the available light and combine that information with a sundial to figure out where the Sun is.
Several researchers have tried to duplicate this over the years with poor results. Another attempt appear in the Royal Society Open Science journal. They find it is sort of possible with very clear cordierite crystals with tourmaline crystals being the next choice. It is still very iffy.
Adjustment errors of sunstones in the rst step of sky-polarimetric Viking navigation: studies with dichroic cordierite/ tourmaline and birefringent calcite crystals
Dénes Száz1, Alexandra Farkas1,2, Miklós Blahó1, András Barta1,3, Ádám Egri1,2,3, Balázs Kretzer1, Tibor Hegedüs4, Zoltán Jäger4 and Gábor Horváth1
1Environmental Optics Laboratory, Department of Biological Physics, Physical Institute, Eötvös University, Pázmány sétány 1, Budapest 1117, Hungary
2 Danube Research Institute, MTA Centre for Ecological Research, Karolina út 29–31, Budapest 1113, Hungary
3Estrato Research and Development Ltd, Nemetvolgyi ut 91/c, Budapest 1124, Hungary
4Astronomical Observatory of Baja, University of Szeged, Pf. 766, Baja 6500, Hungary
According to an old but still unproven theory, Viking navigators analysed the skylight polarization with dichroic cordierite or tourmaline, or birefringent calcite sunstones in cloudy/foggy weather. Combining these sunstones with their sun-dial, they could determine the position of the occluded sun, from which the geographical northern direction could be guessed. In psychophysical laboratory experiments, we studied the accuracy of the first step of this sky-polarimetric Viking navigation. We measured the adjustment error e of rotatable cordierite, tourmaline and calcite crystals when the task was to determine the direction of polarization of white light as a function of the degree of linear polarization p. From the obtained error functions e(p), the thresholds p* above which the first step can still function (i.e. when the intensity change seen through the rotating analyser can be sensed) were derived. Cordierite is about twice as reliable as tourmaline. Calcite sunstones have smaller adjustment errors if the navigator looks for that orientation of the crystal where the intensity difference between the two spots seen in the crystal is maximal, rather than minimal. For higher p (greater than pcrit) of incident light, the adjustment errors of calcite are larger than those of the dichroic cordierite (pcrit=20%) and tourmaline (pcrit=45%), while for lower p (less than pcrit) calcite usually has lower adjustment errors than dichroic sunstones. We showed that real calcite crystals are not as ideal sunstones as it was believed earlier, because they usually contain scratches, impurities and crystal defects which increase considerably their adjustment errors. Thus, cordierite and tourmaline can also be at least as good sunstones as calcite. Using the psychophysical e(p) functions and the patterns of the degree of skylight polarization measured by full-sky imaging polarimetry, we computed how accurately the northern direction can be determined with the use of the Viking sun-dial under 10 different sky conditions at 61° latitude, which was one of the main Viking sailing routes. According to our expermiments, under clear skies, using calcite or cordierite or tourmaline sunstones, Viking sailors could navigate with net orientation errors |Σmax|≤3°. Under overcast conditions, their net navigation error depends on the sunstone type: |Σmax(calcite)|≤6° , |Σmax(cordierite)|≤10° and |Σmax(tourmaline)|≤17°∘