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Finding the North Star

The ability to find the North Star (Polaris) in the night sky is a very important navigational skill. If you can find the North Star then you can easily determine the direction of North, East, West and South.

Paul Bodnar      Educational     6/29/2021
Paul Bodnar
Educational
6/29/2021

Finding the North Star (Polaris) in the night sky

North Star

The North Star, or Polaris, is located in the constellation of Ursa Minor, also known as the Little Dipper. The North Star lies at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. The North Star is one of the brightest stars (48th brightest) in the night sky so it is relatively easy to find. If you still need help, the two outermost stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper points directly to the North Star.


Drawing A Compass

After locating the North Star you can create a compass that points to north, east, west and south.

Draw a line on the ground with a stick so that it points north towards the North Star. You can label the end of the line pointing toward the North Star with an “N” and label the opposite end with an “S”. Now draw a line perpendicular or 90 degrees to the north and south line. If you face North the right end of the second line points to the east and the left end points to the west. You can label the ends of the line accordingly.

In the daylight you will now have a compass that can point you in the right direction.

Note that the North Star is only viewable in the Northern Hemisphere.

Summary

The North Star has been used for navigation for thousands of years The ability to accurately determine the where north is at night is a valuable navigational skill worth practicing. Knowing how to find the North Star is another tool in your emergency navigational skills toolkit.

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A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!
About the Author
A man wearing an Arizona Trail baseball cap stands in a field in front of a mountain.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the PCT again in 2010 to do research for his guide book, Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the PCT.