Home Survival 101 Find Your Way Using the Sun, Moon, and Stars

Find Your Way Using the Sun, Moon, and Stars

by Survival Dispatch Staff

It’s not uncommon for people to venture into the wilderness for a day of recreation, only to find lose their way as they wonder off a designated trail to explore. A quick detour to check out some interesting feature of the landscape can quickly turn into a survival situation if you lack the navigational skills to find your way back.

When you are doing any sort of outdoors exploring, its good practice to always have a compass with you. But should you find yourself without this most basic technology, all is not lost (except for you, of course).  Mother Nature has provided us with celestial navigation tools such as the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars to help us on our way.

However, to most people, navigating by the heavenly bodies appears to be a mystical art that only initiates of this ancient art can make use of. The truth is that anyone with a little bit of navigational knowledge and bit of common sense can use the art of celestial navigation to find their way.

Navigating by the Sun

In fact, navigating using the Sun, Moon, and Stars is actually a pretty simple process if you understand some basic principles:

  • The Sun always rises in the East and it always sets in the West
  • If you are located in the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun is always South of you
  • If you are located in the Southern hemisphere, it is always North of you.

So, if you are in the Northern hemisphere, simply by facing the Sun, you are also facing South.

If you turn your back to the Sun, you are facing North.

The opposite is true if you are located in the Southern hemisphere.

By simply noting the direction that the Sun traveling in, you can easily determine the cardinal directions of North, South, East, and West.

Navigating by the Moon

For nights in which you can see the moon, you can use it to navigate just like you would the soon. Although some nights, you will not be able to see the moon, when it’s present, you can use the moon to navigate like the sun. Because moonlight is the reflection of sunlight on the moon’s surface, the moon’s shadow is in direction relationship to the sun’s position.

During a crescent moon, draw an imaginary line across the moon, pointing to the horizon so that the line touches the two tips (or horns) of the crescent moon.

Crescent moon over mountain with navigation line

Gauging direction when in the Northern Hemisphere

If you are in the Northern hemisphere, this line would point South. If you live in the Southern hemisphere, it would be the opposite and point to the North. Your best bet for using this technique is when the moon is high overhead, not close to the horizon.

Navigating by the Stars

However, because there are nights when the Moon is not visible, you can also use easily recognizable constellations such as Orion’s belt, which consist of three stars in close proximity to each other all in a row, to find the Cardinal Directions because the stars follow the same path as the Sun and the Moon. In addition, you can also use the constellations of the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper to determine true north.

For instance, because the northern axis of the Earth just happens to point to the brightest star in our night skies which is called Polaris or, the North Star, the constellations of both the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper can easily be used to find true North because, whenever you are facing Polaris, you are also facing north. Therefore, to find Polaris, you first need to locate the Big Dipper constellation and then locate the two stars that form the outer edge of the cup (the two stars located farthest from the handle). Next, you need to draw an imaginary line through these two stars to last star in the handle of the Little Dipper.

Once you have done this, you will have successfully located the North Star and, you may also notice that it is noticeably brighter than all of the other stars in the night sky. Of course, once you are certain that you are facing true North, South will be located behind you, West will be on your left, and East will be on your right.

However, because traveling in the wilderness often forces you to navigate around many different types of obstacles and, because the Sun, Moon, and stars continuously change position in the sky during the course of the day and night, using them as navigational tools can be somewhat misleading. Therefore, there are a few tricks that you can use to make using them as navigational tools considerably easier.

For instance, when using either the Sun or the Moon as a navigational tool, it is important to note the position of your shadow. Of course, the reason that the position of your shadow is of importance is because, if you are you are located in the northern hemisphere and you are traveling east, you shadow will always be on your left hand side but, if you are located in the northern hemisphere and are traveling west, then your shadow will always be located on your right hand side regardless of whether it is in front of, or behind you.

However, you should also be aware that the position of your shadow will change somewhat as the Sun and Moon progress through their paths and thus, if you are traveling east, your shadow will be behind you in the morning or early evening and in front of you in the afternoon or late night but, if you are traveling west, then it will appear in front of you in the morning or early evening and behind you in the afternoon or late night and, the opposite is true if you are located in the Southern hemisphere.

In addition, if you are you are in the northern hemisphere and you are traveling North, then your shadow will always appear in front of you and, if you are traveling South, it will always appear behind you regardless of where the Sun is in its daily path and, of course, the opposite is true if you are located in the southern hemisphere.

Furthermore, it is also helpful to be aware that regardless of which direction you are traveling in, your shadow will always be longer in the morning and afternoon hours than it is at high noon because the Sun’s position is higher in the sky at noon. Consequently, by noting both the position and the length of your shadow, you can not only determine which direction you are traveling, in, you can also gauge the time of day.

So, if you ever find yourself lost in the wilderness, then by being aware of these simple navigational rules, you can easily use the Sun, Moon, and stars to determine the Cardinal Directions of North, South, East, and West and thus use them to find your way.

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