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Find North

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Find north using a watch & the sun by day and the moon & stars by night




In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. At noon, it looms in the middle of the horizon and directly south. That means when you're facing the sun at noon, walking directly toward it will take you south. Walking with the sun at your back means you're heading north. The opposite is true in the Southern Hemisphere.

If it isn't noon, and you want to find your directions during daylight, an analogue watch with minute and hour hands can serve as a substitute compass. First, make sure the watch displays the correct time. Then, point the hour hand at the sun. Next, holding the watch in place, imagine an angle formed by the hour hand and a line from the 12 o'clock position to the center of the watch. Then draw an imaginary line bisecting that angle. That line indicates south in the Northern Hemisphere. During daylight saving time, create the angle from the one o'clock position instead of the 12 o'clock position.


According to the Special Air Service Survival Guide, a waxing or waning moon can offer some general directions. If the moon rises before sunset, the bright side is in the west. If it rises after midnight, the eastern side is illuminated. Once you know one direction, it's easy to put together the rest. To understand why this is, remember that we see the sun as moving from east to west in our horizon. We also know that the moon orbits the Earth, and the portion of it that we see depends on how the sun's light shines on it. When the moon is between the sun and the Earth, the moon appears invisible. But as the moon moves in its 28-day counterclockwise orbit, the waxing moon first becomes visible in the western sky around sunset; it is illuminated by the sun, which is in its western position. Then, when the moon begins to wane and its orbit has reached the opposite side of the Earth, it becomes visible after midnight. At that point, it is illuminated by the eastern sunlight.


You can find Polaris by first locating the Big Dipper and Little Dipper constellations. Draw an imaginary line from the two "pointer stars" at the base of the bowl of the Big Dipper to the last and brightest star in the handle of the Little Dipper. Polaris is also the middle star in the 'M'-shaped neighboring constellation, Cassiopeia.


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