The mythical Sunstone might be a real thing

In an Icelandic saga, a King uses a special stone to find the position of the sun in cloudy, snowy weather. Until recently, this “sunstone” was assumed to be fictional.

And maybe it is, but it turns out that such a thing is not completely far-fetched. An Iceland spar is a naturally occurring crystal that can polarize light. The Earth’s atmosphere can also polarize light. Two scientists, Gábor Horváth and Susanne Åkesson, traveled the Arctic Ocean in 2005 and measured light polarization from the sky.

The researchers were surprised to find that in foggy or totally overcast conditions the pattern of light polarization was similar to that of clear skies. The polarization was not as strong, but Åkesson believes that it could still have provided Viking navigators with useful information…. “I tried such a crystal on a rainy overcast day in Sweden,” she says. “The light pattern varied depending on the orientation of the stone.

From Live Science:

Crystals such as cordierite, calcite or turmaline work like polarizing filters, changing in brightness and color as they detect the angle of sunlight. From these changes, Vikings could have accurately determined where the polarized sky light was coming from and pinpointed the direction of the sun, said biophysicist Gabor Horvath.

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