Q:

What are cardinal directions?

A:

Quick Answer

Cardinal directions refer to four points on a compass: north, south, east and west. Each cardinal direction is separated from another by 90 degrees out of a 360-degree circle on a compass. North is at the top, east is to the right, south points towards the bottom and west is to the left.

Know More
What are cardinal directions?
Credit: Jamie Grill Jamie Grill Getty Images

Full Answer

Along the points of the circle, north is zero or 360 degrees, east is 90 degrees, south is 180 degrees and west is 270 degrees. When reading a compass or a map, cartographers and explorers typically orient themselves facing magnetic north using a magnetic compass, which means east is to the right, west is to the left and south is behind.

Cardinal directions are used in many applications such as cartography, travel, sailing, astronomy, geography and orienteering. Mapmakers commonly put north facing upwards on a sheet of paper. Sailors use gyrocompasses to determine a ship's alignment with true north. Astronomers use cardinal directions to describe the locations of stars in the sky as they relate to the celestial sphere.

Points on a compass such as northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest are called primary intercardinal, ordinal or intermediate directions. These points are exactly halfway between the corresponding cardinal directions on a compass. The terms north, south, east and west are derived from Germanic words that replaced corresponding Latin denotations.

Learn more about Maps & Cartography

Related Questions

  • Q:

    Does the Ohio State website offer free maps of Ohio?

    A:

    The website of Ohio State University offers maps of its campus and larger maps with driving directions to the campus, but not detailed maps of the state. The website of the state of Ohio offers free maps of Ohio in its section on tourism and recreation and Department of Transportation.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    How do you calibrate a digital compass?

    A:

    Calibrating a digital compass is fairly simple process if you know how to force it into its calibration mode. You need an open space to begin the process. Determine whether your compass is a handheld compass or an automatic compass, then set your compass to calibration mode. In an open area, make two full circles within 20 seconds. Turn the calibration mode off. The entire process can take up to 10 minutes based on experience.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    What is "true north"?

    A:

    The designation "true north" refers to the North Pole. If facing true north, traveling straight would lead to the North Pole along a meridian of longitude.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    What continent is the North Pole on?

    A:

    The North Pole is not located on a continent, as there is no land underneath the North Pole. Only a large piece of drifting ice is under the North Pole. The mass of ice shrinks and expands based on the season.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:

Explore