For other uses, see Beacon (disambiguation).
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, such as the status of an airport, by the colour and rotational pattern of its airport beacon, or of pending weather as indicated on a weather beacon 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.
Beacons help guide navigators to their destinations. Types of navigational beacons include radar reflectors, radio beacons, sonic and visual signals. Visual beacons range from small, single-pile structures to large lighthouses 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 lighthouses for navigation at sea, 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.
Systems of this kind have existed for centuries over much of the world. In Scandinavia many hill forts were part of beacon networks to warn against invading pillagers. In Wales, the Brecon Beacons were named for beacons used to warn of approaching English raiders. In England, the most famous examples are the beacons used in Elizabethan England to warn of the approaching Spanish Armada. Many hills in England were named Beacon Hill after such beacons. In the Scottish borders country a system of beacon fires were at one time established to warn of incursions by the English. Hume, Eggerstone castle and Soltra Edge were part of this network. The Great Wall of China is actually a beacon network too.
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 similar to those used in vehicle headlamps, xenon flashtubes, 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.
Beacons and bonfires are also used to mark occasions and celebrate events. In Israel 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 shoals or beaches, so that its cargo could be looted after the ship sank or ran aground.
In fiction, culture, politics
- In The Lord of the Rings, a series of seven beacons is used as a signaling device between Gondor and Rohan. In the film adaptation of The Return of the King, Gandalf has Pippin light the beacon closest to Minas Tirith. The series is then lit, thereby notifying Rohan's King Théoden of Gondor's calls for help in the battle against Sauron.
- Beacon of Hope (sculpture), Ireland
- The light on the hill, a speech of Benedict Chifley
- Paul Revere's Ride, a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (historic use of a lantern as a signal, akin to a beacon)
- Aerodrome beacon
- Beacon, New York
- Distress radiobeacons (ELTs, PLBs & EPIRBs)
- Milepost/Kilometre point
- ^ Ritchie, Leitch (1835). Scott and Scotland. London : Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman. p. 53
- ^ Bullough, John; Nicholas P Skinner (2009-12). "Evaluation of Light-Emitting Diode Beacon Light Fixtures" (PDF). Lighting Research Center - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. http://www.nysdot.gov/divisions/engineering/technical-services/trans-r-and-d-repository/LRCBeaconReport.pdf. Retrieved 2010-06-05.
- ^ Beacons of Gondar
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- Early telecommunications
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