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Beacon

Beacon

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A beacon is an intentionally conspicuous device designed to attract attention to a specific location.

Beacons can also be combined with semaphoric or other indicators to provide important information
Information
Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as...

, such as the status of an airport, by the colour and rotational pattern of its airport beacon
Aerodrome beacon
An aerodrome beacon or rotating beacon is a beacon installed at an airport or aerodrome to indicate its location to aircraft pilots at night....

, or of pending weather as indicated on a weather beacon
Weather beacon
A weather beacon is a beacon that indicates the local weather forecast in a code of colored or flashing lights. Often, a short poem or jingle accompanies the code to make it easier to remember....

 mounted at the top of a tall building or similar site. When used in such fashion, beacons can be considered a form of optical telegraphy.

For navigation


Beacons help guide navigators
Navigation
Navigation is the process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another. It is also the term of art used for the specialized knowledge used by navigators to perform navigation tasks...

 to their destinations. Types of navigational beacons include radar
Radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 reflectors, radio beacons, sonic and visual signals. Visual beacons range from small, single-pile structures to large lighthouse
Lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways....

s or light stations and can be located on land or on water. Lighted beacons are called lights; unlighted beacons are called daybeacons.

For defensive communications


Classically, beacons were fires lit at well-known locations on hills or high places, used either as lighthouse
Lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways....

s for navigation at sea
Navigational aid
A navigational aid is any sort of marker which aids the traveler in navigation; the term is most commonly used to refer to nautical or aviation travel...

, or for signalling over land that enemy troops were approaching, in order to alert defenses. As signals, beacons are an ancient form of optical telegraphy, and were part of a relay league
Relay league
A relay league is a chain of message forwarding stations in a system of optical telegraphs, radio telegraph stations, or riding couriers.An interesting description of these early 19th century methods and its evolution into the electrical telegraph networks of the mid-to-late 19th century is found...

.

Systems of this kind have existed for centuries over much of the world. In Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

 many hill forts were part of beacon networks to warn against invading pillagers. In Wales
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

, the Brecon Beacons
Brecon Beacons
The Brecon Beacons is a mountain range in South Wales. In a narrow sense, the name refers to the range of popular peaks south of Brecon, including South Wales' highest mountain, Pen y Fan, and which together form the central section of the Brecon Beacons National Park...

 were named for beacons used to warn of approaching English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 raiders. In England, the most famous examples are the beacons used in Elizabethan England to warn of the approaching Spanish Armada
Spanish Armada
This article refers to the Battle of Gravelines, for the modern navy of Spain, see Spanish NavyThe Spanish Armada was the Spanish fleet that sailed against England under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1588, with the intention of overthrowing Elizabeth I of England to stop English...

. Many hills in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 were named Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill is a name shared by many hills, suburbs, villages and other places around the world. Many are so called because they were historically the site of a warning beacon. Others are named after other places of the same name.-In the United Kingdom:...

 after such beacons. In the Scottish borders
Scottish Borders
The Scottish Borders is one of 32 local government council areas of Scotland. It is bordered by Dumfries and Galloway in the west, South Lanarkshire and West Lothian in the north west, City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian to the north; and the non-metropolitan counties of Northumberland...

 country a system of beacon fires were at one time established to warn of incursions by the English. Hume
Hume Castle
Hume Castle is the heavily modified remnants of a late 12th or early 13th century "Castle of enceinte".The village of Hume is located between Greenlaw and Kelso, two miles north of the village of Stichill, in Berwickshire, Scotland....

, Eggerstone castle and Soltra Edge were part of this network.
The Great Wall of China is actually a beacon network too.

On vehicles


Vehicular beacons are rotating or flashing lights affixed to the top of a vehicle to attract the attention of surrounding vehicles and pedestrians. Emergency vehicles such as fire engines, ambulances, police cars, tow trucks, construction vehicles, and snow-removal vehicles carry beacon lights.

The color of the lamps varies by jurisdiction; typical colors are blue and/or red for police, fire, and medical-emergency vehicles; amber for tow trucks, security personnel, and construction vehicles; green for volunteer firefighters, and violet for funerary vehicles. Beacons may be constructed with halogen bulbs
Automotive lamp types
A modern vehicle uses different kinds of lamps for multiple purposes: illumination for the driver to be able to drive in dark conditions, illumination to be seen and lights for information displays. Types of these lamps vary depending on the purpose and different car manufacturers and models use...

 similar to those used in vehicle headlamps
Headlamp
A headlamp is a lamp, usually attached to the front of a vehicle such as a car or a motorcycle, with the purpose of illuminating the road ahead during periods of low visibility, such as darkness or precipitation. Headlamp performance has steadily improved throughout the automobile age, spurred by...

, xenon flashtube
Flashtube
A flashtube, also called a flashlamp, is an electric arc lamp designed to produce extremely intense, incoherent, full-spectrum white light for very short durations. Flashtubes are made of a length of glass tubing with electrodes at either end and are filled with a gas that, when triggered, ionizes...

s, or LEDs. Incandescent and xenon light sources require the vehicle’s engine to continue running to ensure that the battery is not depleted when the lights are used for a prolonged period. The low power consumption of LEDs allows the vehicle's engine to remain turned off while the lights operate.

Other uses


Beacons and bonfire
Bonfire
A bonfire is a controlled outdoor fire used for informal disposal of burnable waste material or as part of a celebration. Celebratory bonfires are typically designed to burn quickly and may be very large...

s are also used to mark occasions and celebrate events. In Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 beacons identify the beginning of the month.

Beacons have also been abused by pirates. An illicit fire at a wrong position could be used to direct a ship against shoal
Shoal
Shoal, shoals or shoaling may mean:* Shoal, a sandbank or reef creating shallow water, especially where it forms a hazard to shipping* Shoal draught , of a boat with shallow draught which can pass over some shoals: see Draft...

s or beach
Beach
A beach is a geological landform along the shoreline of an ocean, sea, lake or river. It usually consists of loose particles which are often composed of rock, such as sand, gravel, shingle, pebbles or cobblestones...

es, so that its cargo could be looted after the ship sank or ran aground.

In fiction, culture, politics

  • In The Lord of the Rings
    The Lord of the Rings
    The Lord of the Rings is a high fantasy epic written by English philologist and University of Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier, less complex children's fantasy novel The Hobbit , but eventually developed into a much larger work. It was written in...

    , a series of seven beacons is used as a signaling device between Gondor
    Gondor
    Gondor is a fictional kingdom in J. R. R. Tolkien's writings, described as the greatest realm of Men in the west of Middle-earth by the end of the Third Age. The third volume of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, is concerned with the events in Gondor during the War of the Ring and with...

     and Rohan
    Rohan
    Rohan is a realm in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy era of Middle-earth. It is a grassland which lies north of its ally Gondor and north-west of Mordor, the realm of Sauron, their enemy . It is inhabited by the Rohirrim, a people of herdsmen and farmers who are well-known for their horses and cavalry....

    . In the film adaptation
    The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
    The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a 2003 epic fantasy-drama film directed by Peter Jackson that is based on the second and third volumes of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings...

     of The Return of the King
    The Return of the King
    The Return of the King is the third and final volume of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, following The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.-Title:...

    , Gandalf
    Gandalf
    Gandalf is a character in J. R. R. Tolkien's novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In these stories, Gandalf appears as a wizard, member and later the head of the order known as the Istari, as well as leader of the Fellowship of the Ring and the army of the West...

     has Pippin
    Peregrin Took
    Peregrin Took, more commonly known as Pippin, is a fictional character from J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. Pippin is introduced as a Hobbit who plays a major role as one of the companions of Frodo Baggins, in his quest to destroy the One Ring.Peregrin was the only son of...

     light the beacon closest to Minas Tirith
    Minas Tirith
    Minas Tirith , originally named Minas Anor, is a fictional city and castle in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth writings. It became the heavily fortified capital of Gondor in the second half of the Third Age...

    . The series is then lit, thereby notifying Rohan's King Théoden
    Théoden
    Théoden is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings. He appears as a major supporting character in The Two Towers and The Return of the King.-Appearances:...

     of Gondor's calls for help in the battle against Sauron
    Sauron
    Sauron is the primary antagonist and titular character of the epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.In the same work, he is revealed to be the same character as "the Necromancer" from Tolkien's earlier novel The Hobbit...

    .
  • Beacon of Hope (sculpture)
    Beacon of Hope (sculpture)
    The Thanksgiving Statue is a £300,000 public art metal sculpture by Andy Scott 19.5 metres high constructed in 2007 in Thanksgiving Square in Belfast. As with other public works of art in Ireland the sculpture has been given several nicknames...

    , Ireland
  • The light on the hill
    The light on the hill
    "The light on the hill" is a phrase used to describe the objective of the Australian Labor Party. The phrase was coined in a 1949 conference speech by then Prime Minister Ben Chifley....

    , a speech of Benedict Chifley
  • Paul Revere's Ride
    Paul Revere's Ride
    "Paul Revere's Ride" is a poem by an American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that commemorates the actions of American patriot Paul Revere on April 18, 1775.-Overview:...

    , a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline...

     (historic use of a lantern as a signal, akin to a beacon)

See also


  • Aerodrome beacon
    Aerodrome beacon
    An aerodrome beacon or rotating beacon is a beacon installed at an airport or aerodrome to indicate its location to aircraft pilots at night....

  • Beacon, New York
    Beacon, New York
    Beacon is a city located in Dutchess County, New York, United States. The 2010 census placed the city total population at 15,541. Beacon is part of the Poughkeepsie–Newburgh–Middletown, NY Metropolitan Statistical Area as well as the larger New York–Newark–Bridgeport,...

  • Distress radiobeacons (ELTs, PLBs & EPIRBs)
  • Lantern
    Lantern
    A lantern is a portable lighting device or mounted light fixture used to illuminate broad areas. Lanterns may also be used for signaling, as 'torches', or as general light sources outdoors . Low light level varieties are used for decoration. The term "lantern" is also used more generically to...

  • Milepost/Kilometre point
  • Polaris
    Polaris
    Polaris |Alpha]] Ursae Minoris, commonly North Star or Pole Star, also Lodestar) is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor. It is very close to the north celestial pole, making it the current northern pole star....


  • Rotating beacon
  • Strobe beacon
    Strobe beacon
    A strobe beacon is a flashing electric lamp used in a variety of industries as an attention-getting device, either to warn of possible hazards, or to attract potential customers...

  • Time Ball
    Time ball
    A time ball is a large painted wooden or metal ball that drops at a predetermined time, principally to enable sailors to check their marine chronometers from their boats offshore...

  • Waymarking
    Waymarking
    Waymarking is an activity where people locate and log interesting locations around the world, usually with a GPS receiver and a digital camera. Waymarking differs from geocaching in that there is no physical container to locate at the given coordinates. Waymarking identifies points of interest for...

  • Weather beacon
    Weather beacon
    A weather beacon is a beacon that indicates the local weather forecast in a code of colored or flashing lights. Often, a short poem or jingle accompanies the code to make it easier to remember....

  • Web beacon