Underwater Navigation

If you have ever been scuba diving, especially in dirty water, you know how hard it can be to know where you are what direction to go. Imagine being in a submarine and needing to go in a specific direction. How do you know which way to head? You would use a gyroscope!

Because I grew up on and around the water, I have always known about water navigation. I can read marine maps and I can steer a sail boat with a compass. But I did not know that airplanes and space shuttles also use a gyroscope for navigation. I always thought it was a water related instrument. So I decided to do a little research tonight and learn more about gyroscopes.

The first gyroscope was invented in France in was invented in 1852 by Leon Foucault, an experimental physicist. The instrument is very simple: it is based on the principles of conservation of angular momentum. That might sound complicated, but it is not, really.

Some simple gyroscopes are sold as toys, but they are truly an important instrument used in a variety of vehicles and commercial applications. They are fascinating and I wish my high school physics teacher had explained the principles behind the gyroscope better. I didn’t understand it at all until I was long gone from high school and had the desire to learn about it.


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