On this planet, there is a nomadic tribe of humans who are the descendants of unwilling colonists from thousands of years prior. They are a nomadic tribe because of the incredibly extreme seasons, this forces them to cross frozen over oceans and travel vast distances in temperatures that are frigid for four years out of five (note that this planet's orbit takes five years to complete).

Something to note about this planet is that it is a captured rogue world that has a retrograde, oval-shaped orbit. Complex life reclaimed the surface thanks to the brief warming period that benefits this planet. I want to know how a small (around 100 people) stone-age level society could navigate this world. Mainly determining cardinal directions on this planet.


  • $\begingroup$ What is their specific reason for travel? Warm regions get too hot in summer? Are you familiar with Brian Aldiss' Helliconia series? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly that, my friend. Warm regions get too hot in the summer, you are spot on. $\endgroup$
    – John Lewis
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 22:01

2 Answers 2


Navigation wouldn't be any different than it is on Earth.

Consider Pluto: It has a much more eccentric orbit than Earth does, but navigation on Pluto's surface would be exactly the same. The sun rises in the 'East', it sets in the 'West', and North and South are likewise just like they are here. That's all based on the rotation of the planet, orbit has nothing to do with it.

Likewise, if a planet exactly like the one you're describing were in our solar system, you would still use Polaris to navigate just like you do on earth. It's still going to show you true north at night just like it does on Earth. An elliptical orbit doesn't generate enough parallax to matter when you're talking about distances between stars.

  • $\begingroup$ That's true, a planet that travels around a star in an orbit measured in AU isn't gonna see stars that are measured in light-years move across the sky, at least a primitive society wouldn't be able to see any difference. I do wonder about the "rise in the east set in the west" thing. Because if Earth were spinning in the opposite direction (such as if it were a captured rogue world with an eccentric orbit), wouldn't the sun rise in the west and set in the east? $\endgroup$
    – John Lewis
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 18:24

The elliptical orbit couldn't be terribly long, as all life would cease when it reached the furthest points away from the sun(s) UNLESS there were some sort of greenhouse effect in place. Otherwise, migration wouldn't be too much different than it is on Earth among some tribes and migratory animals. When it's too cold, you go to where it's hot and vice versa. You could map it out with the stars, landmarks, previously mapped out paths, etc.

What could make it interesting is where they have to go. Suppose that the planet has a series of geothermal vents or something along those lines. When it gets cold, life is only able to survive when it's near these vents/whatevers because they either produce enough heat themselves or retain enough heat from the warmer seasons. However, when the warm seasons return, they may be too warm to survive in. If the vents changed yearly, it would change how the people had to migrate and find the vents. They might follow the local wildlife, or spend the rest of the year searching for the next suitable place to survive the winters.

This could add an interesting storytelling element as there would be different challenges associated with finding the next survival area, since it's never technically guaranteed.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The planet spends most of its time at Arctic level temperatures, but never dips to rogue planet/death zone temperatures. That's an interesting suggestion though. Most life on this planet just goes dormant for 4/5ths of the "year", humans are forced to travel closer to the equator to be able to survive. $\endgroup$
    – John Lewis
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 18:18

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