Finding Direction by the North Star

North Star

The idea of finding directions by the use of the stars scares many people.  They feel it is too complicated.  The truth is it is not complicated.  You can learn to find the North Star (also known as Polaris or Plough) in a few minutes. In fact finding direction using the stars at night is much quicker and easier than using a compass.

The easiest star to find is the North Star.  First, find the Big Dipper or the Plough.  This is an easy to identify group of seven stars.  Next you find the ‘pointer’ stars, these are the two stars that a liquid would run off if you tipped up your dipper.  The North Star will always be five times the distance between these two pointers in the direction that they point.  True north lies directly under this star.

The Big Dipper rotates counterclockwise about the North Star, so it will sometimes appear on its side or even upside down.  However, its relationship with the North Star never changes and it will always point the way to it.

north star
Here you can see how the Big Dipper rotates around the North Star

The North Star is important for natural navigation because it sits directly over the North Pole.  This is true north and as long as you are traveling directly towards the North Star you will be traveling north.

The North Star is not the brightest star in the sky.  It is a moderately bright second-magnitude star, bright enough to be fairly easily seen.  The North Star is the most stable bright star in the northern sky. Unlike the other stars which either rise in the east and set in the west, or else turn in a circle around Polaris, the North Star appears in a fixed location.

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So long as you know how to find the North Star, you can know all four directions.  When you are facing the North Star, east is on your right and west is to your left and south to your rear.  If you locate the North Star at night but plan on traveling during the day, mark an arrow on the ground pointing toward it and the next morning pick out a distant object  in the direction you wish to travel and head towards it.



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