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Almanac Astrology

Find Your Way Without a Compass

Lost? Find Directions Without Compass
As we prepare for hiking, camping, or just being outdoors, let’s explore
how to find your way in the dark—without a compass—by using the stars,
the Sun, and nature’s signs. Here are some fun pointers for finding North,
South, East, and West the next time you’re outside. Don’t get lost!
Use the Big Dipper
The most accurate and reliable direction finder is right over your head.
It’s Polaris, the North Star. Polaris is over the North Pole, so you’ll know
where north is if you find it in the night sky. Fun fact: Birds also use Polaris
to navigate the night sky!
Here’s how to find the North Star:
-Find the Big Dipper.
-Then, find the two stars at the outer edge of the Dipper’s bowl. These
are pointer stars. They “point” to the North Star.
-Extend an imaginary line from the pointer stars across the sky to the
next bright star.
-Stretch your arm out full length and spread your fingers, and the North
Star should be about as far away as your thumb is from your middle finger.

Use Two Sticks in a Field
In the evening, when you can see the stars:
On a cloudless night, drive a stick into the ground until the tip of it is at
your eye level. Behind it, plant a taller stick such that the tips of the sticks
line up with a bright star as you look at them. After a few minutes, the star
will appear to have moved (but remember: stars don’t move; it’s Earth that’s
rotating). If the star seems to move …
-up, you are facing east.
-down, you are facing west.
-right, you are facing south.
-left, you are facing north.
During the daytime, when the Sun is shining:
Find a stick that’s almost a foot tall. Poke a stick into the ground in the
ground so that it is standing straight up. Look for the shadow. Then place a
rock at the end of the shadow cast by the stick. Wait about 15 minutes.
Put another stone at the end of the second shadow. With your back to the
stick, stand with your left toe touching the first rock and your right toe touching
the second rock. You’re facing north.
Draw an imaginary line from the first rock marker to the second. West is
the direction of the first marker.

Use a Wristwatch
-If you have a watch with hands (not digital), you can use it like a compass.
Place the watch on a level surface.
-Point the hour hand towards the sun. Then find an imaginary line halfway
between the hour hand and the 12 on the watch face. (During daylight
savings time, the halfway line is between the hour hand and the 1.)
-That imaginary line points south.
-This means North is 180 degrees in the other direction.
-If you can wait, watch the Sun and see which way it is moving. If it’s
rising, that’s east. If it’s setting, that’s west.
Make a Needle Compass
Got a first aid kit or an emergency survival kit? Get the needle from it.
Find either the silky liner of your sleeping bag or another material.
-Rub the needle on the silk or wool material about 100 times and static
electricity will build up and create a magnetic charge.
-Lay the needle on a leaf placed in a small pool or cup of water.
-Place the leaf delicately on the pool of water and place the needle on
top. If there is no wind, the needle should orient in a north-south axis toward
the magnetic north. The thicker end of the needle (the side with the eye) will
favor the northern direction.
-You also can use shadows (shadows tend to favor north) to determine
which way your needle is pointing. From there, you can figure out your coordinates.

Observe Nature
During the day, look for these directional signs (applicable for certain
locations in the Northern Hemisphere):
-Deciduous trees tend to grow on the south side of hills; evergreens grow
on the north side.
-In the desert, the giant barrel cactus always leans toward the south.
-The leaves of the pilot weed grow in a north-south line. (Settlers crossing
the Great Plains called it the “compass plant of the prairie.”)
-Moss on a solitary tree that is openly exposed to the Sun. Moss likes
shade, so the northern side of a tree is typically in shade most of the day.
-In the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun lies due south at local noon every
day. [Note: Local noon, aka “local apparent noon or “solar noon,” occurs
when the Sun crosses the meridian (an imaginary line that runs through the
north and south poles and a point directly overhead) and is highest in the sky
for the day. Local noon is usually not the same as clock-time noon.]
-Be sure to practice and tell us which way you prefer (we still recommend
you bring a compass with you on your walks though!).

How Do Birds Navigate at Night?

How birds use the Sun and stars to find their way home?
How do birds fly at night? How do they find their way in darkness without
getting lost? Do they really know how to follow the Sun and stars? Read on to
discover the secrets of bird migration!
In autumn, millions of songbirds navigate thousands of kilometers to their
winter homes in Central and South America from breeding grounds in the
northern United States and Canada. Warm temperatures for breeding and food
availability drive their migration.
Warblers, thrushes, and buntings are just some of the species that are night
migrants, and occasionally these birds can be observed (with the aid of binoculars)
crossing the full Moon. Birds leave as soon as the Sun sets; peak
migration is between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM at altitudes of 2,000 to 5,000
feet—with some flying as high as 21,000 feet.
Navigating the Night Sky
In the 1960s, German ornithologists Franz and Eleanore Saver discovered
that birds navigate the night sky by using the stars. A decade later, a Cornell
scientist was able to identify the specific star patterns used by the indigo bunting.
For indigo buntings, orientation to the night sky develops as the young
birds observe the stars. When star patterns are reversed in a planetarium, buntings
will change their orientation 180 degrees, showing that they use the stars
to guide themselves.
While they are programmed to orient to the North Star (Polaris), they require
a rotating sky to first obtain a fix on Polaris. Stars have fixed positions,
but since Earth rotates on its axis, the sky appears to be rotating. Polaris is
stationary, however, and Cornell scientists determined that buntings can orient
from Polaris or other constellations within 35 degrees of Polaris, especially the
constellation Orion.
Earth’s Magnetic Field and the Sun
Birds migrating by day use the Sun to navigate, adjusting their angle to the
Sun as the Sun’s position moves from east to west.
Some birds, like robins, use Earth’s magnetic field to assist in migration.
It is believed that they have magnetic crystals near their nostrils to help them
sense the field and orient themselves. Birds also use landmarks such as islands,
trees, and buildings, as well as sounds and smells, when they search for
nesting grounds in spring.
Spotlight on the Blackpoll Warbler
The blackpoll warbler, which nests in northern New England and Canada,
makes the longest migration of any North American songbird. Headed to
South America, this warbler makes an 88-hour flight from Maritime Canada
and Maine directly over the Atlantic Ocean to the Amazon, a nonstop flight
of some 2,200 miles. In the weeks before making this flight, they more than
double their weight by gorging themselves on insects and berries.
Near Bermuda, flocks can reach sizes of up to 1,000 birds as they take advantage
of northeast trade winds. They increase their altitude to 15,000 feet—
and sometimes to as high as 21,000 feet—where the air is calmer. They finally
drop to land near Aruba.
This flight over Bermuda was discovered not by using radar, but by an
ornithologist sitting by the pool in Bermuda on a September evening and recognizing
the distinctive call notes of hundreds of blackpoll warblers in the sky.
So, keep your eyes and ears pointed toward the sky this season—you never
know what fascinating birds you may discover overhead!

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