Astronomy

A brief Guide to Navigating by the Stars



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Due to factors like air pollution and occasional improvements in navigational equipment, navigating by the stars is a dying art. Once commonly practiced, astral navigation was becoming passe by as early as the 3rd Century B.C.E. Still, navigation by starlight is an entertaining and sometimes useful skill to have. Like most other kinds of cognitive abilities worth having, though, it does require some study and practice.

The most important thing to know when attempting to navigate by starlight is how to find Polaris. Polaris, also commonly known as the North Star or the Pole Star,  is located at the end of the Ursa Minor's tail and is visible from most points on Earth throughout the entire year. Other constellations usually found near the North Star are Draco, Ursa Major and Cassiopeia, though visibility can vary somewhat depending on weather conditions, time of the night or evening or season of the year. The University of Illinois offers some detailed star charts, and many books on how to locate constellations are available. Star charts are also commonly available in the forms of posters, calendars or other artistic prints.

Once you have found where the North Star is, you can obviously follow it north.  South is going to be the opposite direction from the point at which you can best see the North Star, whereas right will be east and left will be west. Obviously, though, you will have to know ahead of time in which direction you want to walk or ride. Otherwise, you could make yourself lost (or even more lost!) very easily!

As the visibility of the starlight can be significantly impacted by conditions like light or weather, it is obviously not the best idea in the world to rely solely on astral navigation. If you plan to try it, make sure that you do so in an area where you know other people are likely to be. Don't wander around in the dark by yourself, obviously, and carry a flashlight and cell phone with you at all times. In the end, conveniences like a GPS, a compass or simple proximity to other human beings is a much more efficient way of getting directions.

For more tips on navigating by starlight, you can visit sites like YouTube or Wilderness-survival-skills.com. These sites list various other ways of navigating by natural means, including creating simple compasses or locating the moss on trees. Many of these techniques were used by former slaves who escaped or attempted to escape along the Underground Railroad.

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
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