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How to Tell Time and Direction With The North Star

Odds are you’ve heard of the North Star at some point in your life. Perhaps it was seen in kids movies of survival videos. That particular star is more than just a cool name. It can be used to tell you a great deal about your current situation.

But before we can take advantage of it, we need to be able to find it. Take a look at this image produced by NASA scientists. As you can see, the North Star, also known as Polaris, can be identified in a few ways.

The most common way to identify it is through its brightness. It’s often called the brightest star in the sky. This is because its actually two stars of various brightness, almost perfectly aligned to combine their light and look like one very bright star.

The other form of identification is the star’s relation to Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, or the Big and Little Dipper respectively. The North Star is the tail end of the Little Dipper. It also nearly aligns with the end of the “cup” of the Big Dipper. This will be an important distinction.

Finding Direction with the North Star

The North Star is mostly special because it aligns just about perfectly with the earth’s rotational axis. That means that no matter what time it is, or where you are, it will always point north (thus the name). This is a fantastic nighttime resource, saving a survivalist from having to worry about the magnetic shifting that occurs with a compass.

Telling Time with the North Star

This is the part where the Big Dipper matters. Since the North Star stays the same, we can use the “rotation” of the other stars to calculate the time. Look at the above image again. See the dotted line that connects the two dippers. Imagine that this is the arm of a clock, with the North Star being the center. The Big Dipper will circle around as time passes. When the dipper is directly above the North Star, it is midnight.

Next, you need to know the date, approximately, since March 6. Combine the degree angle of the Big Dipper with how many months its been since March 6 in this formula.

Time = Dipper Angle - 2 * Months Since March

For example, Today is July 9, about four months since March 6. If I was to go outside and saw the Big Dipper was a little bit to the right by about 15 degrees, I could calculate it as 15 – 2*4, or 7. So 7:00 AM. Granted, the sun would be out by then, but you get the idea.

Hopefully, you’ll be prepared enough to not need to resort to sky scanning, but this can be a valuable bit of information when you need it. Or you can just impress people at camping trips.

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