Science: The stars next month

Look at the night sky this month, and you can't miss the constellation of Orion riding high in the south. It's one of the most recognisable star patterns of all, and it really does look like a mighty hunter wielding a club. Most of its stars are bright and distinctly blue, with one (literally) glaring exception. That's brilliant red Betelgeuse, at the top left of the constellation - one of Orion's "shoulders".

The constellation of Orion is a rarity in the sky: a group of stars that actually belong together in space, and were all born at about the same time. All except Betelgeuse, that is. At a distance of 450 light years, it is much closer than Orion's other stars, which lie about 1,000 light years away. Its relative closeness, and enormous girth, means that Betelgeuse is one of the only stars that can be seen - with special techniques - as a disc, and not merely a point of light.

Mike Edmonds, professor of astronomy at the University of Wales in Cardiff, has written a fascinating analysis of this star in the latest issue of Astronomy and Geophysics (the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society). Using all the latest data, he reveals much about a star very different from our sun.

To begin with, it's huge: 900 million km in diameter, 650 times bigger than the Sun, and so vast that, were it in the Solar System, Betelgeuse would stretch all the way to the asteroid belt and swallow up Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Its red colour is a result of its extreme coolness (for a star) - around 3,500C, in contrast to our yellow sun's temperature of 5,500C, and the 20,000+C blue-white heat of Orion's other stars.

Astronomers reckon the star is only 120 million years old - born when the dinosaurs first emerged on our planet - unlike our more ancient sun (4,600 million years old). Yet Betelgeuse is on the way out. Such massive stars consume their nuclear fuel much faster than ordinary stars like our sun.Mike Edmonds says Betelgeuse will finally run out of fuel in 70 million years. The whole star will explode as a supernova, shining as brightly as the full Moon in Earth's skies.

What's up

Venus is brilliant in the pre-dawn sky, reaching its greatest brilliance this month. Through a small telescope you can see its crescent shape. On 23 February Venus will be five moon-widths north of the crescent Moon.

The only other planet easily visible is Saturn. Lying among the dim stars of Pisces, this yellowish planet sets around 10pm.

The sun suffers a total eclipse on 26 February, with a maximum length of 4 minutes 9 seconds. Best seen from the Caribbean, no part of this eclipse is visible from Britain.

Diary (all 24-hour clock, GMT):

3 Feb, 2254: Moon at first quarter

11 Feb, 1023: Full Moon

19 Feb, 1528: Moon at last quarter

26 Feb, 1726: New Moon; total eclipse of the Sun visible from the mid- Pacific Ocean, the northern part of South America, and the mid-Atlantic Ocean.

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing