Position of the Sun at Equinox and Solstice

(1) Summer/Winter Solstice: (21 June/21 December) Two times during the year when the sun has no apparent northward or southward motion.

(2) Vernal/Autumnal Equinox: (20 March/23 September) Two times during the year when the sun crosses the celestial equator and the length of day and night are approximately equal.

Autumnal Equinox Diagram

21 t>EC

21 t>EC

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c. Sun's Movement. (MSVX.02.07b) As reflected in the diagram above, the earth continuously moves in a cycle from solstice to equinox; throughout each day, however, the sun appears to travels in a uniform arc across the sky from sunrise to sunset. Exactly halfway along its daily journey, the sun will be directly south of an observer (or north if the observer is in the Southern Hemisphere). This rule may not apply to observers in the tropics (between 23.5 degrees north and south latitude) or in the polar regions (60 degrees latitude). It is at this point that shadows will appear their shortest. The time at which this occurs is referred to as "local apparent noon."

d. Local Apparent Noon. Whenever using any type of shadow casting device to determine direction, "local apparent noon" (or the sun's highest point during the day) must be known. Local apparent noon can be determined by the following methods.

(1) Knowing sunrise and sunset from mission orders, i.e., sunrise 0630 and sunset 1930. Take the total amount of daylight (13 hours), divide by 2 (6 hours 30 minutes), and add to sunrise (0630 plus 6 hours 30 minutes). Based on this example, local apparent noon would be 1300.

(2) Using the string method. The string method is used to find two equidistant marks before and after estimated local apparent noon. The center point between these two marks represents local apparent noon.

e. Sun's Bearing. (MSVX.02.07c) With an understanding of the sun's daily movement, as well as its seasonal paths, a technique is derived that will determine the true bearing of the sun at sunrise and sunset. With the aid of a circular navigational chart, we can accurately navigate based on the sun's true bearing:

(1) Determine the sun's maximum amplitude at your operating latitude using the top portion of the chart.

(2) Scale the center baseline of the chart where 0 appears as the middle number; write in the maximum amplitude at the extreme north and south ends of the baseline.

(3) Continue to scale the baseline; you should divide the baseline into 6 to 10 tick marks that represent equal divisions of the maximum amplitude.

(4) From today's date along the circumference, draw a straight line down until it intersects the baseline.

(5) The number this line intersects is today's solar amplitude. If the number is left of 0, it is a "north" amplitude; if the number is right of 0, it is a "south" amplitude. Use the formula at the bottom of the chart to determine the sun's bearing at sunrise or sun set.


























Equinox Position



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Circular Navigational Chart f. Shadow Stick Construction. This technique will achieve a cardinal direction within 10 degrees of accuracy if done within two hours of local apparent noon. Once again, this technique may be impractical near the polar regions as shadows tend to be very long; similarly, in the tropics shadows are generally very small.

(1) Get a straight, 3-6 foot stick free of branches and pointed at the ends and 3-5 small markers: i.e., sticks, rocks, or nails.

(2) Place the stick upright in the ground and mark the shadow tip with a marker.

(3) Wait 10-15 minutes and mark shadow tip again with a marker.

(4) Repeat this until all of the markers are used.


(5) The markers will form a West—East line.

(6) Put your left foot on the first marker and your right foot on the last marker, you will then be facing north.

3. POCKET NAVIGATOR. (WSV.2.7d) The only material required is a small piece of paper or other flat-surface material upon which to draw the trace of shadow tips and a 1 to 2 inch pin, nail, twig, wooden matchstick, or other such device to serve as a shadow-casting rod.

a. Set this tiny rod upright on your flat piece of material so that the sun will cause it to cast a shadow. Mark the position where the base of the rod sits so it can be returned to the same spot for later readings. Secure the material so that it will not move and mark the position of the material with string, pebbles, or twigs, so that if you have to move the paper you can put it back exactly as it was. Now, mark the tip of the rod's shadow.

b. As the sun moves, the shadow-tip moves. Make repeated shadow-tip markings every 15 minutes. As you make the marks of the shadow tip, ensure that you write down the times of the points.

c. At the end of the day, connect the shadow-tip markings. The result will normally be a curved line. The closer to the vernal or autumnal equinoxes (March 21 and September 23) the less pronounced the curvature will be. If it is not convenient or the tactical situation does not permit to take a full day's shadow-tip markings, your observation can be continued on subsequent days by orienting the pocket navigator on the ground so that the shadow-tip is aligned with a previously plotted point.

d. The markings made at the sun's highest point during the day, or solar noon, is the north—south line. The direction of north should be indicated with an arrow on the navigator as soon as it is determined. This north-south line is drawn from the base of the rod to the mark made at solar noon. This line is the shortest line that can be drawn from the base of the pin to the shadow-tip curve.

e. To use your pocket navigator, hold it so that with the shadow-tip is aligned with a plotted point at the specified point. i.e.; if it is now 0900 the shadow-tip must be aligned with that point. This will ensure that your pocket navigator is level. The drawn arrow is now oriented to true north, from which you can orient yourself to any desired direction of travel.

f. The pocket navigator will work all day and will not be out of date for approximately one week.

Prusik Knot Action

Continue reading here: Nighttime Survival Navigation

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  • Amanuel
    What do the equator and sun look like during an eqinox?
    9 months ago
  • meghan
    What special aspect of the sun's position do we mark?
    9 months ago
  • paul
    How to determenit the suns highest point in the sky?
    10 months ago
  • mebrahtu
    What latitude is the sun directly overhead at noon on day of the March equinox?
    11 months ago
  • Ermias Aman
    What is the position of earth relative to the sun during the solstice?
    1 year ago
    What abgle is the sun in the sky during the vernal equinox?
    1 year ago
  • Genet
    How to determine rising suns location on solsticwe?
    2 years ago
  • james
    Where is the sun at 12 noon at an equinox?
    2 years ago
  • massawa
    What latitude does not cast a shadow at 12 pm during an equinox?
    2 years ago
  • chad
    What is the position of the sun at sunset during the summer solstice in southern Californi?
    2 years ago
  • jolly
    What position is the sun striking at march solstice?
    2 years ago
  • gerda
    What is the suns relative position around the sun during solstices and equino?
    3 years ago
  • zainab
    What is the position of the earth during a solstice and equinox?
    3 years ago
  • tim busch
    What position is the eartt during a vernal equinox?
    3 years ago
  • abaalom
    Where is the apparent position of the Sun during the vernal equinox?
    8 years ago