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Use Stellarium to Learn Celestial Direction Finding

Anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors should know about the sky, and what it can tell us. One thing it can tell us is direction. You may have seen the section on this site called Celestial Navigation

Finding Polaris by the Big Dipper

In that section, I go over how to use the sun, the stars, and the moon to find direction. You probably have a compass, so why is it important for a navigator to use celestial bodies for direction? As I've said on these pages quite a few times, "A good navigator never likes to rely on any one piece of information." Your compass is one piece of information. If the sun, the stars, and/or the moon back up what your compass tells you, you have proof your compass is working correctly.

If you don't have a compass (they do get lost and broken), you've always got the sky, unless it's clouded over. 

Stellarium -- A Free, Downloadable Planetarium

It's one thing to read about how the sky works. It's another thing to see it in action. Stellarium, a free, downloadable planetarium can allow you do to just that. 

Let's say you want to see the direction and trajectory of sunrise at any particular place on earth for any particular day of any year. Just open Stellarium, set the place and the date, manipulate the time, the sunrise! It's amazing. I never could visualize how the sun worked at the North and South Poles, until I watched it on Stellarium. Now, that I see how it works, all the explanations make sense. They didn't before. Seeing is learning. 

Want to watch Mintaka rise due east and set due west to prove to yourself it actually does this? Stellarium will show it to you.

Want to know what time the full moon tonight will cross your meridian? Go to Stellarium, and see for yourself. 

Click the link to go to the page to download Stellarium. It's a 185 megabyte file that you can then install on your computer. Once installed, you'll have an icon shortcut on your desktop. Just open it, and play around. There's a bit of a learning curve, but stay with it. Soon, Stellarium will be answering your how-the-sky-works questions by showing you, which is better than telling you. 

There are some plug-ins you can add. One that is great is the plug-in that puts the 360-degrees of the compass dial on the horizon. I definitely recommend that one. 

Once you have the program on your computer, be sure to read the sections on my site dealing with Celestial Navigation, and then use Stellarium as needed to help you gain a better understanding of how the sky works.

Knowing How the Sky Works is an Important Outdoors Skill

If you're interested in land navigation, you must be someone who likes the great outdoors. Knowing how the sky works can mean the difference between life and death. Say you've lost your map, compass, GPS, the whole works. It happens. Maybe it all floated downstream when you crossed that river. Maybe you left your nav kit on the ground when you stopped for a break, and went off and left it. 

Your plan now is to follow your safety bearing back to civilization. A safety bearing is a bearing you know will lead you back to safety. If you're south of an east-west road, for instance, due north could be your safety bearing. If you just walk due north, you're going to hit that road. 

But how will you know where north is? Look at the sky. Something up there will tell you--either the sun, the stars, or the moon. Unless of course, the sky is clouded over. Then you may be better off to make yourself at home until the sky clears, then head out.

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