THE NORTH STAR
In any type of survival situation, having the ability to navigate without the reliance on GPS networks or the internet will be extremely important. Navigation can lead to safe ares, find family or friends, and be used to locate much need resources depending on the situation. Without basic navigation skills, an individual could make a bad situation worse by getting loss, or ending up in a hostile area. Fortunately, even individuals without the most basic navigation equipment such as a compass and map, can still effectively navigate using only the North Star.
Why the North Star
The North Star is unique and very useful to primitive navigation because the northern axis of the earth points straight towards the North Star. So when you’re observing the North Star, you’re actually facing true north toward the North Pole. The North Star is also referred to as the Polestar or it’s astronomical name, Polaris. Because it’s location is absolutely North, by simply having the ability to locate the North Star in the sky, you can increase the chances of successfully navigating to wherever you need to go to. Also, the North Star can be utilized anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Currently, there’s not the equivalent to Polaris for the South pole star because there’s no single star that’s as clearly defined in the night sky as Polaris. For a bit more background on Pole Stars in general, check out this resource.
Locating & Navigating with the North Star
It’s as simple as that, once you’ve located the North Star, simply visualize a compass, with west on your left, east to the right, and south behind you. Even though this information is very simple, it’s not always as clear cut actually locating the North Star. Of any navigation skill you could acquire and practice, start with being able to locate the North Star no matter where you are. Take any chance you get with a clear sky to glance up and become proficient in locating Polaris. With repeated practice, you can easily locate the Northern Star and gain an accurate sense of direction anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
The most efficient known method of locating the North Star is to first locate the Big Dipper and then the Little Dipper (the Big Dipper is Ursa major, the Little Dipper is Ursa minor). From there,try and visualize a line linking directly to the “handle” of the Little Dipper. Once you’ve done that, the North Star will be the brightest star at the end of the Little dipper’s handle. For visual learners, here’s a graph of what to look for. Keep in mind that the Big/Little Dippers will rotate depending on the time of year but will also maintain the same shape of stars.
It’s also possible to discover your latitude (your position north or south of the equator) using the North Star. The basic method is to measure the angle between the horizon and the North Star. Another post will provide more detailed instructions on use this method to determine your general latitude and also how to determine your general longitude. These skills, while more advanced, are also extremely valuable to posses to increase your effectiveness at safely navigating to where you need to be.
Knowing how to locate and utilize the location of the North Star is a simple, practical, and potentially life-saving skill to possess. It’s only prerequisites are for the survivor to be located in the Northern Hemisphere, and be able to to view the stars. But remember, it does take practice to efficiently learn how to accurately identify the North Store every time, from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.