Few hikers use the celestial bodies in the night sky to navigate by. But on a clear night, the night sky provides a feature that is an excellent source of direction. It doesn’t matter if it is June or November, if you are in Wyoming or Oregon.
The North Star or Polaris is the principle star that I will focus on.
For the backcountry hiker consider that Polaris is fixed in position over the northern pole. Unique from other celestial stars and planets, Polaris is very closely aligned to the earth’s axis. Stars and planets rotate around Polaris. And like the sun, this rotation is from east to west through the sky. Polaris will be found approximately half way between the northern horizon and straight overhead. In the northern hemisphere, Polaris can found in our northern sky and is never more 1° from true north – the North Pole.
Constellations help locate Polaris. Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper point to Polaris. Uniquely, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper and Little Dipper can be seen in relation to Polaris year round. In winter, the constellation of Orion will also help locate Polaris.
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