Tag Archives: Polaris

Second Star to the Right, and Straight on Till Morning


Second Star to the Right and Straight on Till Morning

Simple Star Navigation in My Own Backyard

I’ve always wanted to be able to navigate by the stars, using them as a compass just as the ancestors did for thousands of years. I finally found some easy tricks to do this.

Northern Hemisphere Constellations

Northern Hemisphere Constellations

1. The Big Three

There are 58 stars useful for navigation, and 38 constellations encompass them all. Start with learning to spot Cassiopeia, Crux, and Orion (the Big Three) plus the Big and Little Dipper. 

2. Learn to Find the North Star

The North Star, or Polaris, indicates mostly-north rather than True North. The reason? True North changes as the polarity of the Earth shifts. For the present, though, Polaris is a pretty good guide at about one degree off True North. Find the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and follow the ladle or bowl of the dipper. The outside edge of the ladle points straight up to the North Star.

If you go too far past Polaris, you will see a constellation that looks a little like a “W.” That is the constellation Cassiopeia. Polaris is about midway between the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. It is also the end star of the handle of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor).

Finding the North Star

Finding the North Star

3. Find Your Way South

Find the constellation Orion, easily identifiable by the three stars in a row known as Orion’s Belt. Find Orion’s sword, and follow it’s point to South. Another way to navigate southward is to draw a line between the tips of a crescent moon. Follow that imaginary line to the horizon and towards the South Pole.


5. Know How Stars Move

Stars in the sky track from East to West. Look for Orion’s Belt. The far right-hand star, Mintaka, rises very close to true East and sets at due West.

6. Go Down Under

The North Star is not visible South of the Equator, of course. Down under, look for the constellation Crux, or the Southern Cross, which looks like a kite. Draw an imaginary line from the top of the kite to the bottom. This line points South.

Crux - the Southern Cross

Crux – the Southern Cross

7. Make a Land-Based Star Survey

Place two sticks in the ground one yard apart. Pick any star, and line it up with the tops of both sticks, much like looking down a rifle sight. As the Earth rotates, the star will appear to move. If the star tracks left, you are facing North. If it tracks right, you are facing South. If it rises, you are facing East, and if it sinks you are facing West.

Wheel of the Sky - the Northern Hemisphere Constellations

Wheel of the Sky – the Northern Hemisphere Constellations

Plan on seeing some new additions to my back yard experimental station. I already made a simple stone compass, but it is currently covered with cantaloupe vines.

Winter Constellations - Northern Hemisphere

Winter Constellations – Northern Hemisphere

Northern Hemisphere Summer Constellations

Northern Hemisphere Summer Constellations