How to find Orientation by the Stars, watch, compass & map

Last Updated on March 10, 2021 by Bruce

Orientation by the Moon, the Sun and Other Stars.

The Sun

Using The Midday Sun To Find ‘True South’ Or ‘True North’ 
The sun rises in the East and sets in the West (most precisely, on the equator).
If you are in the Northern hemisphere (anywhere on the planet North of the equator), the sun’s direction will be ‘True South’ at midday when it is at it’s highest point. If you are in the Southern hemisphere (South of the equator), the sun’s direction will be ‘True North’ when it is at it’s highest point.

Shadow Stick
How To Use A Shadow StickFinding East and West with a Shadow Stick:
Place your stick and mark the tip of the shadow. Wait 1/2 hour + and mark it again. Draw a straight line between the 2 marks the first mark is pointing West and the second is East.

Finding North with a Shadow Stick:
To face North stand with the left foot on the West marker and the right foot on the East marker.
Use a shorter stick for less light.

The Moon

Finding South with a crescent moon
You can get a rough idea of where South is by using a crescent moon.
Imagine a straight line between its points, downward towards the earth. If you are in the Northern hemisphere (anywhere on the planet that is North of the equator), where this line meets the horizon is South. If you are in the Southern hemisphere, where the line meets is North.
Finding East and West with the bright side of the moon
You can also determine East and West using the brightest side of the moon;
If the moon is not full and rises before the sun sets, the illuminated side is West.
If the moon rises after midnight, the illuminated side is East.

The stars and planets

The stars offered a consistent reference and given that it is a clear night can help you position yourself in relation to them. Appearing to us in a marginally different place (by 1 degree in movement with a 4 minute time-lapse) from one night to the next, following an anticlockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere, and vice-versa.

Finding North in the Northern Hemisphere
In the Northern hemisphere, it is the bright Pole Star that is mostly used for direction. However, to find the Pole Star it is useful to be able to recognise other stars as pointers to it, namely two stars Dubhe and Merak both within The Plough/ Bid Dipper which is part of a much larger constellation, The Great Bear/ Ursa Major and a constellation is known as Cassiopeia. These constellations of stars seem to circle the Pole star.

200px-CassiopeiaCCCassiopeia; The centre star of this ‘W; shaped constellation points to the Pole Star
The Plough; An imaginary line is drawn, starting at Merak through Dubhe and onward four times the distance between them will lead to the Pole Star. Travelling in the direction of the Pole Star will take you north.

Finding South in the Southern Hemisphere
Southern Cross; in the Southern hemisphere, it is the Southern Cross constellation that is mostly used for direction. It is a constellation of 5 stars, four in an obvious cross shape and a fifth. It is next to a dark, dust cloud patch of the Milky Way strip and on the other side of this are two pointer stars. An imaginary line is drawn along the cross and onward four and a half times longer than the cross then vertically down to the horizon will show you South and travelling towards it will lead you South.

Finding East and West in either Hemisphere
Orion; Rises over the Equator, it is, therefore, a useful pointer for this region of the planet; however it can be seen to rise in the East and set in the West in both hemispheres.

Plant growth patterns in relation to the Sun and elements
Plants tend to grow towards and face flowering heads towards the sun and moss will grow on the side of trees and rocks on the side facing the sun. In the northern hemisphere this will be south, and vice-versa. Consistent prevailing winds may override the direction of plant growth, but these are good indicators in their own right.

Orientation using a watch, compass & map

Using a compass

A compass will show you where magnetic North, South, East and West is by way of a magnetic pointer that aligns itself with magnetic north in the Earth’s magnetic field. They can be affected by magnetic occurrences.
How to use a compass and map ~
~Take your compass and your map.
~Align the edge of the compass with where you are to begin your journey and where you intend it to end.
~Rotate the compass housing until the orienting arrow points north on the map.
~Rotate the map and compass together until the red end of the compass needle points north.
~Now keeping the compass needle in alignment with the orienteering arrow you are ready to set off in a direction of travel arrow.

Make your own compass

C732C192-7F27-4D5B-A4E0785D4F3EEC66_agendaTo make your own compass, you can use a thin metal object such as a sewing needle. Magnetise or polarise the metal by stroking it slowly and carefully, repeatedly in one direction, through your hair, or across silk. Tie your, now electromagnetic, pointer from a strand of hair or another type of string or place it on a small piece of wood or bark; its alignment is one with north to south.

Another easy way to magnetise your piece of metal is to stroke one end of it repeatedly in one direction with a magnet.

Using a Watch

In the North Temperate Zone
Here in the North Temperate Zone, you can use a watch to find the approximate true north and true south. Point the hour hand towards the sun, midway between the hour hand and 1200 hours, standard time is a north – south line. In daylight saving time, the line is found between the hour hand and 1300 hours.