how to navigate using the stars

In centuries past, before the coming of the compass and other sophisticated equipment came about, the stars were the only way to navigate, not just the high seas but land as well. If you’re an outdoors person and are taken by the sky above, then you might want to learn how to navigate the stars for the fun of it. You can also test your accuracy as you practice using modern technology. Overall, finding your way around using stars and constellations is a fun way to make the most out of the great outdoors. 

Here, we’re going to explore the various ways you can navigate using the pole star. 

Finding the North Star

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As the name indicated, the North Star is in the Northern Hemisphere. The other name for the North Star is Polaris, and you can find it by looking at the brightest star within the Ursa Minor or the Little Bear constellation. The Polaris is found in the bear’s tail, so look for the bear and then locate the brightest point. The reason why it’s located at the tails is that ancient civilizations thought of bears as having long tails. 

Using the Little Dipper to find the North Star

Can’t find the bear with the long tail? That’s quite fine because it now looks more like a small water dipper, hence the Ursa Minor earning the name Little Dipper. That’s because the seven stars within the constellation look more like the dipper than the bear. Also, the reason why the Polaris appears not to move along the night sky is that it’s within a degree of the Celestial North Pole. 

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Using the Big Dipper to find the North Star

If you’re still having a hard time, where you’re located on the equator could make it hard for you to spot it. Those North of the equator has an easier time spotting the Polaris. Either way, if you can’t find it, then you can use other star constellations to help you locate the Polaris. The stars that help you point to the Polaris the best are the Merak and Dubhe pointer stars. These stars are located on the edge of what is referred to as the Big Dipper, which is opposite the Little Dipper constellation. The Merak and Dubhe are located opposite the handle of the Big Dipper. 

Therefore, when you locate the two stars, right across, you’ll see the handle of the Little Dipper, and at the tip, you’ll see the Polaris shining the brightest. Even if there’s a cloud cover, you can estimate where the Polaris is. Measure the distance between the Merak and the Dubhe. Then, multiply the distances you’ve measured by five times. Use what you find to measure the distance from the Dubhe to the Polaris. You’ll then be able to know where it is even on a cloudy day. 

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Using the Great Square of Pegasus to find the North Star

During the early hours of fall, the Big Dipper is usually below the horizon, and so you can’t spot it. Instead, you can use the Great Square of Pegasus and Cassiopeia, the W-shaped constellation, to find the Polaris. Even if there is a cloud cover, you ought to be able to find it. You only need to locate the Alpheratz in the Great Square of Pegasus and the Caph on the Cassiopeia constellation. Using that distance that is between them, the Polaris should be three degrees from there. 

Finding your latitude in the Northern Hemisphere 

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When you want to find your latitude, you first need to locate the Polaris. The pointer methods given should aid you in locating it. From there, use a quadrant or a sextant to find the angle in degrees between where the Polaris is and the northern horizon. The curved section of these instruments is what will help you establish the degrees. The angle you measure is equivalent to your latitude when you’re north of the equator. 

The other way that you can find out the latitude is through using your fists. It is estimated that a fist accounts for about 10 degrees. Therefore, from the horizon, stretch out our hands and stack the fits hand over hand until you get to the Polaris. It might not be the most accurate because it depends on the size of your wrist, but it gives you a good estimate. 

Locating South from the Northern Hemisphere

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When looking for the south, look for the constellation Orion, The Hunter. It looks like a bent hourglass. When you find it, the shoulders will be the Betelgeuse and Bellatrix stars. The knees or the feet will be the Saiph and the Rigel stars. In the middle, there are three stars, Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. These are said to represent Orion’s belt. To locate the sword, look at the Alnilam star, which is in the middle of Orion’s belt. After, spot a bright star followed by a dim star and lastly a fuzzy star that points south from the belt. 

The fuzzy star is referred to as the Great Nebula of Orion. It is an interstellar nursery, meaning that new stars are getting formed there. It is, therefore, something to watch out for as the years go by. 

The time the Orion is most visible in the Northern Hemisphere is during the winter and early spring. During summer or in the fall, the only times you can sport it is before sunrise and late at night, respectively. 

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Locating the South from the Southern Hemisphere

To navigate your way to the south, look for the Southern Cross, the Crux. The reason you don’t look for the Polaris Australis that is, the South Star also called the Sigma Octantis, is because it is too dim. Instead, that is why navigators have to look for the Crux because it is a bright constellation. It consists of four stars that form the crosspiece. You will find the Southern Cross constellation on the flags of New Zealand and Australia. 

The thing to know is that without your knowledge, you could end up looking at the wrong cross. Here is where the pointer stars, the Rigel Kentaurus and Hadar, play the crucial role. The reality is that the False Cross is bigger than the Southern Cross and thus easier to stop. When you locate the pointer stars, what you’re looking for is a bit further up to your right when facing the sky. You should be able to spot the four points of the cross immediately. 

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To find this accurately, you can draw a line between Rigel Kentaurus and Hadar to follow it perpendicular to the closest point of The Crux, which is called the Mimosa. From there, you should be able to locate the closest star to the earth after the sun, the Acrux, or the Alpha Crucis. However, when we say it is the closest, it is 321 light-years away from the sun. 

It makes the bottom of the cross on the constellation. The horizontal side of the cross is as it should be, longer than the vertical. However, don’t look for straight lines because the cross is somewhat tilted to its right. 

Locating the east or the west using Orion’s belt

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If you want to find east or west pending on where you are, you use Mintaka, the lead star in Orion’s belt. Remember, we mention that there was a fuzzy star and a dim star. Now, Mintaka will be the brightest. The star rises and sets, and that way, you’re able to locate either the east or the west. In about three hours after it rises, trace it to the horizon at 60 degrees minus the latitude you established earlier. That is how you find the east. To find the west, three hours before it sets, do the same to find the west at the same angle. 

How to find your direction using a star’s position

If you’re unable to find your way around, then there is one more way you can find out where you are using the stars. It might not be a pole star, but it will still help you in navigating your way as our ancestors did. What you should do is drive two stakes into the ground that are 1 yard apart. From there, select the brightest star that you see in the night star. These are a better bet than those that are of normal brightness. 

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After, get the star that you’re looking at to align with the star you’re looking at. That is, the tops of both stakes should lead to a direct path to the star. That is at whatever point that you catch the star if you’re lost. Given that the earth rotates from west to east, the stars in the sky, because they don’t move, they will look like they are rotating from east to west. When they are out of line with the stakes, you should be able to know which direction you’re facing. 

How does that work? If the star rose above the stake, you are facing east. If the star sank, then you’re facing west. However, if the star moved to the left from the original position of the stake, then you are facing north. If it moves to the right instead, then you are facing south. 

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