Many people love the idea of finding direction and navigating using the stars, but are discouraged because they fear it will be complicated. It doesn’t have to be complicated at all, it’s something you can learn to do in minutes. In fact, finding direction using the stars is much faster and easier than using a compass. It is also a lot more fun.
Imagine a night that you agree to meet a friend under a lamppost on the other side of a gentle hill. As you walk towards your friend, you would see the light appear on the top of the hill, long before your friend became visible. You would know exactly which direction they were, even if you couldn’t see them. This is the simple concept behind the use of stars to orientate us at night.
The stars can act like our street lamps.
All we have to do is find a star that is directly on the place that we should reach and that will indicate exactly the right direction for us, from a quarter of the globe. If you called a friend on the phone who was in another country a few thousand kilometers away and asked them to name the star that was directly above their head, then you may find that star in the night sky and the spot at the horizon directly Below would be your exact address at that time. Unfortunately, a few minutes later that star would move and you would need a new one. It would take a lot of phone calls to use this method with most stars! Fortunately, there is a star in the night sky that doesn’t seem to move. It is called Polaris or the polar star.
The easiest way to find the polar star is to find the plow, a group of seven stars that are easy to identify. It is known as the “Big Dipper” for Americans and the “dish” for many others. So you will find the “pointer” stars, these are the two stars through which a liquid flows out if your “saucepan” is overturned. The polar star will always be five times the distance between these two pointers in the direction they are pointing (away from the overview). True north is directly below this star.
The “Plow” rotates counterclockwise around the polar star, so sometimes it will appear laterally or even vice versa. However, your relationship with the polar star never changes and will always show you the way reliably.
The reason why the polar star is so important for natural navigation is that it is located directly on the North Pole. Something that people often forget is that every time you try to find the true north, you are really trying to find the direction of the North Pole from where you are, even if you only walk a few hundred meters on a gentle walk. ‘only an abbreviation of’ towards the North Pole ‘remains.
The constellation, Cassiopeia, is also very useful for finding the polar star, since it will always be on the opposite side of the plow’s polar star and, therefore, often high in the sky, when the plow is low or hidden.
Having found the polar star, there is something in its height above the horizon that is worth knowing. Wherever it is in the northern hemisphere, the polar star will have the same angle on the horizon of its latitude. This can be measured accurately using a sextant, but an estimate can be made using an extended punch. We all have different shapes and sizes, but we share proportions. An extended punch forms an angle close to 10 degrees for most people. In less than a minute and only with bare hands, you can now find the north and estimate your latitude.
The constellation, Orion, rises in the east and sets in the west. The belt of Orion, the only three bright stars that form a short straight line in the night sky rise very close to the east and are positioned very close to the west. If you want to be really precise, then the first star in the ascending and stabilizing band, called Mintaka, will always rise and settle within a degree of the true east and west anywhere in the world.
You can find much more information on these methods and many more in my books.
They also contain a lot of information about using the sun, moon, plants and animals to help you find your way, on land or at sea or even in the city.