Knowing how to guide yourself by the stars is a key survival skill. This is a guide for how to do so.

Your location in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere determines which constellation you use to determine your north or south direction.

The Northern Sky

The main constellations to learn are the Ursa Major, also known as the Big Dipper or the Plow, and Cassiopeia. Neither of these constellations ever sets. They are always visible on a clear night. Use them to locate Polaris, also known as the polestar or the North Star. The North Star forms part of the Little Dipper handle and can be confused with the Big Dipper. Prevent confusion by using both the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia together. The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia are always directly opposite each other and rotate counterclockwise around Polaris, with Polaris in the center. The Big Dipper is a seven star constellation in the shape of a dipper. The two stars forming the outer lip of this dipper are the “pointer stars” because they point to the North Star. Mentally draw a line from the outer bottom star to the outer top star of the Big Dipper’s bucket. Extend this line about five times the distance between the pointer stars. You will find the North Star along this line.

Cassiopeia has five stars that form a shape like a “W” on its side. The North Star is straight out from Cassiopeia’s center star.

After locating the North Star, locate the North Pole or true north by drawing an imaginary line directly to the earth.

The Southern Sky

As there is no star bright enough to be easily recognized near the south celestial pole, a constellation known as the Southern Cross is used as a signpost to the South. The Southern Cross (or Crux) has five stars. Its four brightest stars form a cross that tilts to one side. The two stars that make up the cross’s long axis are the pointer stars. To determine south, imagine a distance five times the distance between These stars and the point where this imaginary line ends is in the general direction of south. Look down to the horizon from this imaginary point and select a landmark to steer by. In a static survival situation, you can fix this location in daylight if you drive stakes in the ground at night to point the way.

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