How is a compass used to find directions?

A compass or mariner’s compass is an instrument used for navigation and orientation that shows the direction of magnetic north.

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A compass is typically a small device where there is a magnetized pointer (called the ‘needle’), which aligns itself to point towards the Earth’s magnetic poles.

The primary use for a compass is to determine the direction of north from any position, while also enabling navigation. The compass will indicate magnetic north, which can be useful in environments where true north is not distinct or known.

The standard convention is that if you draw a line directly away from the dimensional center of the Earth, it will point to true north or geographic north.

As well as finding directions, compasses can be used for a variety of other purposes such as locating magnetic North and following maps.

To use a compass you hold it in your hand so that the two pointed ends (usually red) are sticking out in the same direction, the “north” end in the northern hemisphere.

Disciplines within geomatics (which includes cartography, GPS, geography, land surveying, navigational positioning, and space systems) use compasses extensively.

Tourists sometimes use pocket-sized compasses to find their way around; for example when exploring caves or canyons.

By looking at a compass, you can find directions or your location on a map. You start by holding the compass in front of you so that one pointed end (usually red) is pointing directly away from the center of Earth and the other pointed end is facing towards where you want to go. Then, you turn the compass dial (the part with all of the numbers) until the needle (the marked metal bar inside) points towards “true north” or “magnetic north”. Once this has been done, look at where the red end of the compass is pointing and that will be your direction.

If you’re trying to find where you are on a map, it’s best to use the “sighting” method. This involves using your compass and lining up one end of its baseplate with some easily identifiable location (like a mountain) in the distance that lies along your intended path and then looking down at your compass dial (the part with all of the numbers). Where the red end points to is generally where you are on a map. If you use a lensatic compass, this method gets a little more complicated because there’s a mirrored scale that lies along the two sight lines of your compass and they might run in opposite directions depending on which direction you’re facing.

In order for either method to work most effectively, you need to make sure that your compass is level (so the needle will move freely) and you want to make sure that there aren’t any metal objects around which could disrupt the direction of the needle. It’s also good if the conditions are as “calm” as possible, so avoid windy days or cloudy ones.


A compass is typically a small device where there is a magnetized pointer (called the ‘needle’), which aligns itself to point towards the Earth’s magnetic poles.

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