Field-expedient Direction Finding - Using the Moon and the Stars

Using the Moon
Because the moon has no light of its own, we can only see it when it reflects the sun’s light. As it orbits the earth on its 28-day circuit, the shape of the reflected light varies according to its position. We say there is a new moon or no moon when it is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. Then, as it moves away from the earth’s shadow, it begins to reflect light from its right side and waxes to become a full moon before waning, or losing shape, to appear as a sliver on the left side. You can use this information to identify direction.

If the moon rises before the sun has set, the illuminated side will be the
west. If the moon rises after midnight, the illuminated side will be the east. This obvious discovery provides us with a rough east-west reference during the night.

Using the Stars
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 (Figure 18-3). 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
Because 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 (Figure 18-4). 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.