Natural Navigation: What’s Happening with the Three Brightest Objects in the Night Sky?

by Paul Kirtley

The Moon, Venus and Jupiter in conjunction

The three brightest objects in the night sky.

For the purposes of wayfinding, it's important to have an understanding of the brightest objects in the night sky.

The three brightest objects in the night sky are not stars but planets: The Moon, Venus and Jupiter.

These planets are up to something rather special in our skies at the moment (read on).

It's at interesting times like this that there is a really good opportunity to learn more about the night sky and the motions of the stars and planets.

Why am I writing about this on a bushcraft blog?

Well, natural navigation is a core subject (and skill) of bushcraft.

Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass

Looking after yourself in the wilds, with minimal reliance on equipment and maximum reliance on your skills and knowledge of nature, includes being able to find your way without map or compass.

For millennia, humans have been using the heavenly bodies as aids to our navigation.

More recently, increased trade and exploration of the globe demanded more accurate navigation. As a result more accurate measurements of the positions of stars were made and celestial navigation became more mathematical. This puts people off learning about it.

Even so, the fundamentals of using celestial objects for navigation are the same as they have ever been.

Observe Your Suroundings

At its heart, natural navigation is based on observation and memory.

I have written about using the Moon and Venus for natural navigation purposes. I also argued that the best way to build up a knowledge of your night sky is gradually, over time.

So it is a good opportunity to learn about the motion of The Moon, Venus and Jupiter at the moment.

These three planets, along with Mercury, are in the process lining up in the night sky. With a clear sky and an unobstructed view to the west, you should be able to see these planets not long after sunset. You'll be able to see a triangle of planets this coming weekend (25th and 26th February) and over the next few weeks, Venus and Jupiter will get to within 3 degrees of each other.

Below is a short, straightforward video from NASA. At less than 4 minutes long, it tells you what need to know in order to see this planetary alignment. It also explains some relevant points about how the eye functions, which is useful background knowledge for other bushcraft skills such as tracking.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8br4JiFEik]

Please share this post with your friends so that they also get the chance to see this three-way planetary alignment.

If you have some good sightings, let us know in the comments below.

And if you manage to take good photos, please add them to an online gallery (even Facebook) and share the link with us here. We'd love to see them!

Here's hoping for some clear skies over the coming weeks...

Further Information

If you'd like to know more about this planetary conjunction, about why it occurs and how the planets move in relation to each other, check out the following links:

Skyweek 20-26th February 2012 (5 min video) Sky and Telescope: This week at a glance Jordrell Bank Night Sky Roundup, February 2012
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Paul Kirtley is owner and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog as well as for various publications including Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine.

 

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

hedgey

This kind of stuff is great, core bushcraft skills and subjects are always good to revisit. Map and Compass has never been my strong point, but natural navigation is for me much better and very interesting.

Well done again Paul, love it

Hedgey

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Hedgey

Nice to hear from you. Good to know that this was useful to you.

Do let us know if you see anything this week.

It looks as though it might be cloudy for the next few nights though.

This is useful for obtaining a cloud forecast.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

skipjames

good comment built up the knowledge slowly, know your surroundings. Even used the stars navigating motorways in Germany when my driver got us lost on a business trip. So bush craft is usefull even in our so called modern environment. Went right across Taipei by using the sun keeping it on my left (heading west) amazed my Taiwanese workmates. Bush Craft ain,t just for the country side.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Skip

Thanks for your comment. I also often use the sun, moon and stars to help when in unfamiliar towns or territory.

It’s a good point you make, particularly about the “so called modern environment” – in terms of celestial bodies, the environment is the same as it has ever been (in as much as we haven’t changed it). We just need to take the time to learn about it. It’s still a very useful skill-set.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi

After several days of being where the cloud was, I managed to get a good sighting and some photos tonight. You can see them here.

Here’s wishing for more clear skies over the coming days.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Matt Batham

Hi Paul,

I am duty warden at my local Scout campsite this weekend so I took some time to watch the sky at sunset. I was amazed how bright Venus and Jupiter were. The crescent moon was also great to see. I can see the moon and Venus out of the office window as I type this.

I wouldn’t have taken much notice, to be honest, if it wasn’t for this article. The video from NASA was very informative. The triangle formed this evening is so vivid. I feel that I have witnessed something secret, something that only those who look for it can see. I hope tomorrow is equally as impressive, although I will be back in a light polluted area. If NASA is correct (why wouldn’t it be…?) I should still be able to make out the celestial triangle.

Cheers,
Matt

Reply

Mark H

Excellent stuff Paul- just been outside to take a look. I did however check it out on my wife’s ipad. She has an app which allows you to view the stars as they would appear on the clearest of evenings- point it to the ceiling then orientate it and there they all are. Not quite Bushcraft , but very clever !

Thank you for more ‘pearls’ of wisdom.
Best
Mark

Reply

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