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Star Guides

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Have you ever lost your way in the dark? Humans are visually oriented animals who depend upon our sight first above other senses. When it is dark it is very easy to lose track of where we are and where we are headed. Luckily, we have patterns in the sky that can be relied upon to guide us along our way. The stars have been used for centuries by humans to navigate around the world. So how can we clue into the messages from the stars?

The Northern Sky

The most dependable star for navigation in the northern sky is of course the North Star, also called Polaris. The North star rests close to the axis at which the earth rotates so its position in the sky doesn’t change too much throughout the night. But other than its position, there isn’t much else about the North Star that makes it stand out. In fact it is a rather dull star. So how can we find it?

The first technique is to use the Big Dipper constellation. People are generally pretty good at finding that constellation. Once you have, take the distance from the two stars at the end of the pot and move 5 times that distance in the direction that those stars are angled at. Then you should find the north star.

The next constellation that can help you find the north star is Cassiopeia. This constellation is generally on the other side of the northern sky from the big dipper so if one constellation is blocked you could try to use the other. Cassiopeia is shaped like a W. If you take the distance between the two stars on the tips of the W, and then rotate that line on a 90 degree angle onto the left star, and move twice the distance in that direction, you’ll find the north star.

The Southern Sky

The southern sky changes a bit more with the seasons. In the winter we have Orion, which you can use the direction of the stars in his belt and follow that line down to the ground to find south. In the summer, Scorpius is our guide. This is a long chain of stars that branch out at the tip to three separate stars. If you take the direction of the middle star at the tip and the one directly below it, and move that direction towards the ground, you’ll find south.

This can be a fun way to train your eye to the natural clues in nature, even if it isn’t really a necessity for us to know this anymore. I want to note that these tricks are for the northern hemisphere, so it won’t work south of the equator. Next time you’re outside on a clear night, see if you can find any of these patterns. It might just make your experience outdoors a little more fulfilling.

For more information:

Wild Signs and Star Paths: The Keys to Our Lost Sixth Sense, Tristan Gooley

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