How to find North…..

How do we find north? It sounds a simple question but in truth a lot of the ways that you have most likely immediately thought about are not 100% correct. The first one that I imagine came to your mind would be to use a compass and travel in the direction the needle points to. Whilst this will put you in the right general direction it will not get you specifically to the North Pole, as a compass does not point to the North Pole. As some of you may already know, compasses point to the magnetic north which is located in a different part of the Arctic circle, and what’s more is that the magnetic north is gradually moving its way south. Now the reason I bring this up is because a unique phenomenon is predicted to be just around the corner, something that only occurs every 500 million years. Well when I say just around the corner I mean within the next thousands years, but in terms of the age of the Earth that is not too far away at all.

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So with the magnetic north slowly beginning to drift at about 10 miles per year, scientists are predicting that at some point the Earth’s entire magnetic field is going to flip, so North becomes South and South become North. Down will be the new up. Dogs will marry cats. It will be chaos. Also what they also believe is that in the lead up to this ‘flip’ the Earth’s magnetic field will diminish completely before reappearing with the poles swapped. This is the conclusion from studying the rock from millions of years ago, for those who are wondering where the proof is!

Now this could have drastic consequences for the Earth as the magnetic field plays a pivotal role in the Earths relationship with our Sun. The magnetic field basically acts as a shield for the Earth which deflects all the harmful radiation that is emitted from the sun above and below the Earth and directing it past the planet towards the rest of the solar system. Occasionally this radiation is funnelled into the top and bottom of the Earth, causing a reaction with the atmosphere. Now this reaction is known by a very famous name in the northen hemisphere as it is always very impressive – I am of course talking about the Aurora Borealis or the Northen Lights. The equivalent for the southern lights is the Aurora Australis.

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You will be glad to hear though that there has been no evidence found during previous magnetic ‘flips’ that life on the planet has been wiped out by the Sun, so it may not be as catastrophic as you may think. However, it will mess with the animal kingdom as birds, bees and turtles all use the magnetic field to navigate. It will be the animal equivalent of your sat nav sending you to Stamford Bridge in the north of England, rather than Chelsea’s football ground in London (which actually happened to someone!)

Right then, back from that tangent to the original question, how do we find north? I imagine that a few people may have suggested using the stars, which would be fine. All we would have to do is locate the North Star (known as Polaris) and set off on our travels with it in front of us. The North Star is the brightest star in the sky isn’t it, so locating it should be easy. But is it actually the brightest? Well, no. Officially Polaris is the 64th brightest star in the night sky so actually trying to pick it out in comparison with other bright stars is very tricky. There is a simple technique though.

If we were to locate the Plough/ Big Dipper/ Saucepan/ Whatever container or farming tool you prefer and draw a line between the two stars that form the side of the constellation, then continue the line across the night sky then eventually you will hit the North Star (thanks Glasgow Science Centre!).

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Of course the reason Polaris is picked as the North Star is because it is the one star that does not move in the night sky. Well of course it is not the stars that are moving but the Earth but you know what I mean! And if we are already being pedantic Polaris is only ever in line with the North Pole on two occasions throughout the year, but 0.7⁰ out the rest of the year, but we all knew that already didn’t we?

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