Star Navigation Guide - How To Use The Stars To Navigate

Celestial navigation is a science from past eras which was used by navigators to determine their relative position and travel across an area without having to carry out complex calculations. It is also sometimes referred to as astronavigation.

It involves taking the angular measurement between a horizon which can be clearly seen and a celestial body. The angular measurement is also referred to as ‘sights’. It is used to determine a position on land or at sea. The sun is the most used celestial body in this measurement. Other celestial bodies include the moon, a planet or a star.

The nautical almanac is a table which consists of the 58 navigational stars which are used by navigators. The most popular navigational star is Polaris, also known as The North Star, since it is very close to the North Pole and therefore makes it easier to navigate the northern hemisphere.

Steps in Navigating by the Stars

The sky has been used as a tool for determining location by navigators and explorers for a long time. It is a good skill to have when camping and is vital knowledge for survival.

1) Know the three major Constellations
The 58 stars are very useful in navigation, but locating them can be difficult since you need to be able to identify at least 38 different constellations. The easiest method is to locate the constellations Orion, Cassiopeia or Crux.

2) Locate Polaris
Using the Cassiopeia constellation or the Big dipper to guide you, you can easily locate Polaris. Depending on where the big dipper is facing, you may either need to draw a line from the edge of the pan upward or downward. If your line touches Cassiopeia, it means you have missed Polaris. Polaris is between the big dipper and Cassiopeia and falls within 10 degrees of the true North.

3) Shoot for the Moon
Another good method of locating the North and the South is to make use of either Orion's sword or the moon. If there is a crescent moon, you can draw a line from its midpoint to point you in the northern direction. On the other hand, following the direction of Orion's sword will direct you towards the South.

4) Down Under? No Problem!
Sometimes you may not be able to use the North Star in navigating. This usually occurs in regions below the equator where the North Star can't be seen. In this situation, you can identify the constellation, Crux, which forms a shape similar to a kite. To get a direction to the south, you will need to draw a line from the top of the constellation to the lower part of it.

5) Follow the Stars
It is good to note that stars move from the east to the west in a manner similar to the sun. To know what direction you are going, you can locate the general direction in which the stars are moving towards. You can also use the constellation, Orion, by identifying it’s belt which consists of its three brightest stars in order to get a more accurate location. One of the stars, Mintaka, is known to rise very close to the true east and set in the true west. It is located on the right side of Orion’s belt.

6) Take a Survey
There is another simpler method used in identifying your location which is especially useful if you do not know how to identify the constellations. This is done by setting two sticks a yard from each other and selecting a star which aligns perfectly with the top of the two sticks you have placed. After a few moments, you will begin to observe the star moving. If it moves upward, you are in the east, and downwards means you are in the west. If it moves to the left, you are in the north, or to the right means you are in the south. This is due to the rotation of the earth.

How to Navigate by the Stars

The North Star as it is popularly known is another name for Polaris. It is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation. To locate the North Star, there are two constellations which are popularly used. The first of this constellation is Cassiopeia.

Depending on the position of the constellation when you try to locate it, you may get an “M” or a “W” shape. When the constellation forms a “W”, trace a straight line from the top of the point where two lines meet at the top star upward and you will get a bright star which is the North Star.

The second method is to make use of the Plough or the Big Dipper. The plough consists of 7 stars. These stars form the saucepan shape which is used to identify the big dipper. four stars form the pan while the remaining three stars form the handle. Drawing an upward straight line from the two stars that form the edge of the pan will point you towards Polaris. To be sure you have the right star, it should form another smaller saucepan which is the Little Dipper. Polaris is the last star on the handle of the little dipper.

It is important to note that when compared with the horizon, Polaris will be at an angle which is equal to the latitude of your location. This can be easily observed at the equator which is 0 degrees. It will be noted that Polaris will lie on the same line as the horizon. Also at the North Pole, it will form an angle equal to 90 degrees and will be seen overhead.

In case you don’t know how to find Polaris or you just need an easier method to get your bearings, simply observing the stars can be an effective solution. As the earth rotates, the stars also move. This is similar to the way the sun rises and sets. To get an accurate result, first pick a position from which you will observe the stars, then select a particular star which you will observe. As you observe the star, you will notice it moves from the position it was in when you started observing it. If it moves in an upward direction, this means you are looking towards the east. If it moves downwards, this means you are looking towards the west. If the star moves towards the left side, you are looking towards the northern direction. A move towards the right indicates that you are looking towards the south.

During the winter season, another useful constellation is the Orion hunter. It is usually visible during the winter because it appears at night. In the summer periods, it appears during the day and is not usually visible. It is a good indicator when you need to accurately locate the east and the west. The Orion’s belt is a pattern in this constellation used to identify the east and the west. It is made up of three stars and the star at the right end is known as Mintaka. This star rises at exactly the east and sets in the exact west.


  1. Wow!!! amazing guide, bookmarked!


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