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Where is North?
Once you are out of the surly bonds of earth and its gravity, which way is North?
4 Replies
"...out of the surly bonds of earth and its gravity..."  We are NEVER out of Earth's gravity!
North can be defined depending on your frame of reference. On Earth, we call the star that is directly above the geographic North Pole "Polaris." On Mars the star above the geographic North Pole is different, and each planet points to a different "North" star. Once you get away from a planet, one might define North as any direction, but it would be useful for everyone interested to use the same definition.

Have a look at some interesting Wikipedia articles. In your favorite search engine, search for:

"wikipedia galactic coordinate system"

"wikipedia milky way"

"wikipedia celestial coordinate system"

You will find lots of links to interesting aspects of this along the way.
1183 Posts
According to Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, (p. 36) spatial coordinates are used to establish a standard galactic X, Y, and Z position.

According to Star Trek Maps, the XYZ spatial coordinates 0,0,0 used by the Federation are those of a central navigation beacon located near the core worlds of the Federation. The galactic XYZ values are in a grid in relation to this central beacon. Units in the grid are parsecs. The first value, X, is the distance towards (positive) or away from (negative) the center of the galaxy. The second value, Y, is the distance towards the left "Alpha Quadrant" direction (positive) or the right "Beta Quadrant" direction (negative). The third value, Z, is the distance in the galactic north direction upwards (positive) or galactic south downwards (negative) away from the galactic plane. Based on the various canon references, the system of coordinates used in Star Trek appears to be more complex than this.  For more on a galatic spatial coordinate system, see

For heading references, you could use two bearings with reference to that XYZ coordinate axes set.  For example, "105 mark 250" could mean a course which is 105 degrees from the y-axis in the x-y plane and 250 degrees from the z-axis in the x-z plane.  For more on this concept, see

BTW, "North" on earth doesn't always mean magnetic north.  It can also mean "true north", which uses the rotational axis of the earth as a reference rather than the magnetic field.  The nice thing about true north is that unlike magnetic north, the earth's spin axis is for navigational purposes essentially unchanging.  In addition, for aerial navigation in the polar regions, a coordinate system independent of both magnetic and true north called "grid navigation" is used.  For more on this, see

And yes, I'm a rated Navigator by the USAF, although not by Starfleet.
26 Posts
"North" is defined by the magnetic field generated by the Earth, so once you "slip the surly bonds...", there is no "North".  Directions in space are defined by the spacecraft's location relative to a "fixed" point, such as a distant star.  This is an interesting concept, however, because stars are not really "fixed", but are also traveling through space on specific trajectories.