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[sek-stuh nt] /ˈsɛk stənt/
an astronomical instrument used to determine latitude and longitude at sea by measuring angular distances, especially the altitudes of sun, moon, and stars.
(initial capital letter) Astronomy. the constellation Sextans.
Origin of sextant
1590-1600; < Latin sextant- (stem of sextāns) sixth part of a unit. See sext1, -ant
Can be confused
sextant, sextet, sexton. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for sextant
Historical Examples
  • Dontor glanced at the juniors, saw that Kuero had his sextant ready, and raised his own.

    The Players Everett B. Cole
  • Prof. had forgotten his sextant and rode back to our main camp for it.

    A Canyon Voyage Frederick S. Dellenbaugh
  • Forsythe made a notation from the sextant on a piece of paper.

    The Wreck of the Titan Morgan Robertson
  • The sextant is the one most in use and so will be described first.

    Lectures in Navigation Ernest Gallaudet Draper
  • Now read the angle of the height of that light by using your sextant.

    Lectures in Navigation Ernest Gallaudet Draper
  • The sextant of the meetinouse, which sweeps And dusts, or is supposed too!

  • So saying Johnson turned upon his heel and dived below for his sextant.

    The Pirate Island Harry Collingwood
  • Captain Hollinger, who had the deck, went to the chart house for his sextant.

    The Pirate Shark Elliott Whitney
  • “Twenty-six minutes,” continued the captain, reading off his sextant.

    Newton Forster Captain Frederick Marryat
  • The sextant, as used by navigators, was also invented by Newton.

    Pioneers of Science Oliver Lodge
British Dictionary definitions for sextant


an optical instrument used in navigation and consisting of a telescope through which a sighting of a heavenly body is taken, with protractors for determining its angular distance above the horizon or from another heavenly body
a sixth part of a circle having an arc which subtends an angle of 60°
Word Origin
C17: from Latin sextāns one sixth of a unit
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for sextant

instrument for determining latitude, 1620s, from Modern Latin sextans, said to have been coined c.1600 by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, from Latin sextans "a sixth," from sex "six" (see six). So called because the sextans has a graduated arc equal to a sixth part of a circle.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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sextant in Science
An instrument containing a graduated 60° arc and a movable pivoted arm corresponding to the radius of the arc's circle, used in celestial navigation to measure the altitude of a celestial body in order to determine the observer's latitude and longitude. A horizontally mounted telescope and two small mirrors are arranged so that the observer can, by moving the pivoted arm, sight the horizon and the reflected image of the celestial body in the same line, giving a reading along the arc that is used to look up the observer's position in a published table.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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