6 Ways to Guide Yourself by the Stars

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6 Ways to Guide Yourself by the Stars
6 Ways to Guide Yourself by the Stars

Before GPS and compass, the main way to find your way was to orient yourself to the stars. While today's technology makes finding the way easier, it's still fun to learn to orient yourself to the stars. You can find north, south, east or west by learning about some stars and constellations, or you can just pick a star and follow its movements.


Method 1 of 6: Finding the Northern Star (Northern Hemisphere)

Navigate by the Stars Step 1

Step 1. Look for Polaris, the North Star

Polaris is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor (Ursa Minor). It can be found on the bear's tail (the ancient Greeks and many other peoples saw long tails on bears). The star is called Polaris because it appears one degree from the North Celestial Pole and therefore does not appear to move across the night sky.

Fun Facts: Nowadays, since the seven stars of Ursa Minor look like a small shell of water, most Americans refer to Ursa Minor as Little Dipper

Navigate by the Stars Step 2

Step 2. Use reference stars to help find the North Star

Although Polaris is visible in the sky at most locations north of the equator, it can be difficult to spot if you don't know exactly what you're looking for. You can use stars from other constellations to find it.

  • The most used stars for this are Merak and Dubhe, the two stars on the edge of the Big Dipper, on the opposite side of the cape. Following these stars towards the mouth of Big Dipper, you can find Polaris.
  • There are times at night when the Big Dipper is below the horizon, like in the early autumn hours. Instead, you can draw a line through the stars on the east edge of the Great Square of Pegasus, Algenib and Alpheratz (actually part of the constellation Andromeda) and through Caph, the star on the right edge of the constellation Cassiopeia, which it has a W shape, to find Polaris.

Method 2 of 6: Finding Your Latitude (Northern Hemisphere)

Navigate by the Stars Step 3

Step 1. Locate Polaris

Use one of the star reference methods to help you.

Navigate by the Stars Step 4

Step 2. Determine the angle in degrees between the Polaris position and the north horizon

The most accurate way to do this is with a quadrant or sextant, which allows you to read the angle on the curved part. This angle measure indicates your latitude north of the equator.

If you don't have a quadrant or sextant, you can approximate the angle by extending your clenched fist to the horizon and placing the fist of one hand on top of the other until you reach North Star. Your outstretched wrist has approximately 10 degrees of angle measurement

Method 3 of 6: Finding the South (Northern Hemisphere)

Navigate by the Stars Step 5

Step 1. Look for the constellation Orion

The constellation Orion the Hunter looks like a bent hourglass. The stars Betelgeuse and Bellatrix represent your shoulders; the stars Saiph and Rigel represent your knees (or feet). The three stars in the middle, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, represent the belt of Orion and are also known as the Three Marys.

In the Northern Hemisphere, Orion is mostly visible in winter and early spring, but can be seen at night in autumn or before sunrise in summer

Navigate by the Stars Step 6

Step 2. Find Orion's sword if you can

Look for a moderately bright star, a dark one, and a down-distorted one from Alnilam, the middle star of the Belt of Orion. They represent the sword of Orion, which points south.

The distorted "star" is actually the Great Orion Nebula, an interstellar nursery where new stars are being formed

Method 4 of 6: Finding the South (Southern Hemisphere)

Navigate by the Stars Step 7

Step 1. Look for the Southern Cross (Crux)

There is a star near the South Celestial Pole, Sigma Octantis, but it is too weak to help you find the south..

Cruzeiro do Sul is such a prominent constellation that it is represented on the flags of Brazil and other countries such as Australia and New Zealand

Navigate by the Stars Step 8

Step 2. Draw a line through the stars on the vertical rod of the cross

It points south.

Drawing a line through the two stars in the cross section points to the star Alpha Centauri, the closest to Earth after the Sun. (This star is also depicted on the flag of Australia.)

Method 5 of 6: Finding East or West (celestial equator)

Navigate by the Stars Step 9

Step 1. Look for the constellation Orion

As noted earlier, the torso of the constellation looks like a bent hourglass.

Navigate by the Stars Step 10

Step 2. Look for the rightmost star in Orion's belt

This star, Mintaka, rises and sets within a degree of true east or west.

Method 6 of 6: Finding Direction by Following the Position of a Star (Anywhere)

Navigate by the Stars Step 11

Step 1. Drive 2 stakes into the ground

They should be about three feet apart.

Navigate by the Stars Step 12

Step 2. Choose any star you can see in the night sky

You can use any star for this, although it's probably best to choose the brightest one.

Navigate by the Stars Step 13

Step 3. Align the star with the tops of the two pegs

Navigate by the Stars Step 14

Step 4. Wait for the star to move out of alignment with the pegs

The Earth's west-to-east rotation causes the stars in the sky as a whole to move from east to west. The direction the star has taken from its original position tells which cardinal point is in front of it.

  • If the star has risen, you are facing east.
  • If she came down, you're facing west.
  • If the star has moved to the left, you are looking north.
  • If she went to the right, you're facing south.


  • Polaris is one of 58 stars used for celestial guidance by aviators and mariners around the world. Some versions of the list exclude Polaris because its near-fixed position allows browsers to find its latitude without needing to know the position of any other stars.
  • Fun Facts: The "Big Dipper", known in England as "The Plow" or "Wain Charles" (Charlemagne's Chariot), is part of the large constellation Ursa Major (Ursa Major). It can be used to find stars other than Polaris. Drawing a line through the stars Merak and Dubhe away from the Little Dipper leads to the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo (Leo). Drawing an arc of the stars on the handle of the "shell" leads first to the bright star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes (Shepherd) and then to the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo (Virgo).


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