NAVIGATE USING THE STARS

Once in a while, you will find yourself a perfect night. When the night sky is so clear, the stars are shining and the moon is bright and clear. You wouldn't see this clear if you was in a heavily built up area, but out in the wild or the country you would. Just imagine if you could point out directions to your friends or family using only the stars. It might seem to be a  challenge.  But all you need to do is familiarize yourself with a few constellations, and you can do a little showing off. Wouldn't that be great?

GPS is a great tool to have or using your smart watch. Also map and compass is the way to go. But if you want to add to your navigation skills, this is a good one to learn.

Look for Polaris, the North Star,
to find North

Polaris, also known as the North Star, is the brightest star at the tip of the Little Dipper’s “handle.” It’s the only star that appears to remain static in the night sky, thanks to its position right above true north – the direction of the North Pole.

If you’re having a hard time finding the North Star, you can use other constellations, like the Big Dipper, to help locate it. Find the Big Dipper’s “ladle” and the last two stars are lined up and will point right to the North Star. Next to the Big Dipper (depending on the angle it is in the sky) is the Little Dipper, it will always be smaller and upside down. The tail end is the North Star.

If you see a constellation that resembles a “w,” that means you’ve found Cassiopeia and have gone too far. Go back a bit and you’ll spot Polaris, nicely between the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia.

Ursa-Major-and-Ursa-Minor-in-the-Sky-scaled_edited.jpg

Use Polaris to find your latitude in the Northern Hemisphere

If you’re north of the equator, you can use Polaris to determine your latitude. Normally, a sextant or a quadrant is used to measure the angle between Polaris’ position and the northern horizon, but that’s not an object that we tend to keep handy on a camping trip. If you happen to be outside without a sextant, you can use your fists to measure the angle.

Stretch your right or left arm out in front of you, with your hand closed in a fist, towards the horizon. Place your other fist above and continue stacking one over the other until one of your fists meets Polaris. Each fist approximates 10 degrees, so you can use them to help count how many degrees separate the North Star from the horizon to find your latitude.

orion.jpg

Orion (Orionis)

Use Orion to find south

To find south, you’ll need to locate the constellation Orion, which looks a bit like a bent hourglass. In the Northern Hemisphere, Orion is visible primarily during winter. Eight major stars make up Orion’s body: one star - Meissa - represents the head; two stars - Betelgeuse and Bellatrix - represent the shoulders; another two - Saiph and Rigel - serve as the feet; and three - Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka in the middle - make up Orion’s belt.

You’ll want to look for Orion’s sword, which is made up of three stars that hang off of the belt. Follow its point and it will show you south when Orion is oriented close to vertical.

Not sure if it’s Orion you see in the sky?

You can use a stargazing app to help you identify different constellations.

Follow the stars for direction

Just like the sun, stars travel across the sky from east to west. Keep track of which direction they seem to be moving to determine which way you’re facing. If you want something more precise, look for Mintaka, the star located on the right side of Orion’s belt - it rises close to true east and sets close to true west.

A compass or GPS device is essential for serious navigation, but it can be refreshing to take an approach that doesn't involve gadgets, by looking to the stars above for guidance. Whether you’re out exploring in the wild or up late at night at your camp, consider the sky your celestial road map.