Navigate without a GPS

PrintHow to find the North Star

Knowing how to navigate without benefit of a GPS is one of those fundamental life skills that is slowly slip-sliding away.

Arrest that slide!

Tonight, head into your backyard and look up. Find the Big Dipper (Ursa Major for my astronomy friends). See the two stars that form the outer edge of the “ladle”? Great! Now, follow a line visually from those two stars, going from the bottom to the top of the ladle, and then on toward the next star you see, which is about five ladle-depths away. Ta da! You’ve found the North Star (also known as Polaris, or even the Lodestar if you’re from another century).

How to find Polaris using the Big and Little Dippers

How to find Polaris using the Big and Little Dippers (click to embiggen)

To double-check yourself, now that you’ve spotted the North Star, look for the much fainter Little Dipper constellation (okay, so it’s not a “real” constellation, but rather a formation within a larger constellation. This is what I get for being married to an astronomy geek.). The North Star will form the terminal end of its handle. Take note that it’s not the brightest star in the area; it’s just the critical one for navigation!

Now that you can use the North Star to spot true north, you also know the other cardinal points of the compass: west is to your left, east is to your right, and south is directly behind you.

Be sure to share this trick at your next beach bonfire party. You might even score an extra beer out of it. 🙂

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