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Home >> Ask Brett & Nina >> How do I know which way is North, South, East, and West?
Q: How do I know which way is North, South, East, and West?
A:  Once you know one direction, it is easy to figure out the other three. The four cardinal directions — north, south, east, and west — never change in relation to one another. For example, if you are facing north, then south is behind you, east is to your right, and west is to your left.

In clockwise order, the cardinal directions are north, east, south, and west. To remember this order, think of the phrase Never Eat Soggy Waffles. (You could also make up your own N-E-S-W phrase.)

One way of finding directions is to use the sun. As you know, the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west.

If you are facing the rising sun, you are facing east. West is behind you, north is to your left, and south is to your right.

If you are facing the setting sun, you are facing west. East is behind you, north is to your right, and south is to your left.

You can also use stars to help you find directions. A very bright star called the North Star sits almost directly above the North Pole. If you are facing the North Star, you are facing north.

One trick for finding the North Star is to first find the well-known formation called the Big Dipper. It is made up of seven stars: three in the dipper’s handle and four in the part that is shaped like a cup. The two cup stars that are farthest from the handle point in the direction of the North Star. From the lower of these two stars, follow an imaginary line that passes through the upper star. Keep following the line and it will lead you to the North Star.

Of course, you can always find directions if you have a compass. Because of the orientation of Earth’s magnetic field, the magnetized needle of a compass always points toward the North Pole.

Finding directions on maps is easy. Mapmakers usually include a north arrow or a compass rose on each map. A north arrow points toward the North Pole, and a compass rose shows the four cardinal directions. Some compass roses also show the four intermediate directions: northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest.

 (Question submitted by a 6th-grade student at Moore Middle School in Tyler, Texas.)

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