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.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

    Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    General Cover Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?