THE winter skies in February are as impressive as they were in January and this is the month when Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, can be seen at its best.

The brightness of Sirius is due to it being fairly close to us.

It can be found by using the three stars of Orion’s belt. Draw a line down and to the left and you will see Sirius, so bright that it cannot be mistaken.

Sirius is only 8.5 light years away. This means that any readers with family members around eight years old can tell them that, if they look at Sirius this year, the light that will enter their eyes would have left Sirius the year they were born.

Scientists use the light year as a measurement of distances in space because the mile is too small a unit to use.

A light year is the distance covered by a particle of light in a year and light travels at 186,000 miles per second or 300,000 km per second.

In one year, light covers a distance of roughly 6 million million miles (which can be written as 6,000,000,000,000), or 9.5 million million km (which can be written as 9.5 000,000,000,000 km).

Just to illustrate the point, we could say that Sirius is 48 million million miles or 80 million million km away, but these numbers are quickly becoming very unwieldy and of course the problem becomes much worse for stars that are at much greater distances.

It is a question of scale: if we wanted to measure the distance from Craven to Australia we would use the mile as a unit, because if we used the millimetre we would end up with an impossibly huge number.

Sirius is also known as the Dog Star. It is the brightest star in the constellation of Canis Major, the Great Dog.

It was very important to the ancient Egyptians because they used to watch for Sirius to rise in the morning sky just before the Sun.

They knew that when they saw Sirius at this time in the morning the river Nile would shortly flood and they had to make sure that their fields were prepared and their seeds were in the ground ready for the water that would irrigate the crops.

Although Sirius the Dog Star looks like a star on its own, it is actually a double star; it has a faint companion star that was discovered in 1862 when a new telescope was being tested.

The companion star is a white dwarf; a small but very dense star roughly the size of the Earth but having about half the mass of the Sun.

A table spoon of white dwarf material would weigh several tons. Officially the Star is known as ‘Sirius B’, but because Sirius is the Dog Star, the white dwarf star is unofficially known as ‘the Pup’.

As regards the rest of the winter skies, Orion, the superb signpost constellation in the winter sky, is still well placed just to the west of south.

Capella, in Auriga, which occupied the overhead point in January, can now be found just to the west of that overhead point and is still very easy to find.

Some of the winter stars are now beginning to drop to the west although they are still easy to find.

Using Orion’s belt, a line drawn to the right and slightly upwards will reach the bright red star Aldebaran in Taurus and if this line is then continued you will reach the Pleiades or Seven Sisters which look like a fuzzy patch in the sky. The Pleiades are also in Taurus.

The other bright stars in the winter sky, Procyon in Canis Minor and Castor and Pollux in Gemini, are now all at their highest points in the sky.

Our other signpost constellation, the Plough can now be found quite high in the north east.

Unlike Orion which can only be seen in the winter, the Plough can be seen all year around.

This means of course that with the Plough becoming higher in the sky the ‘W’ of Cassiopeia is now getting lower in the north west. The spring stars are just beginning to appear but are still very low on the horizon.

The Planets in February;

The situation in the sky regarding the planets is even worse in February compared to January.

Of all the naked eye planets Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn are all too close to the Sun to be seen.

Its only the red planet Mars that saves February from being a complete planetary drought.

This does happen sometimes and this is all due to the orbits of the planets taking different periods of time to orbit the Sun. The astronomers who observe the planets are quite used to this planet feast or famine.

Mars can be seen high in the south west. On the 18th there will be the very pleasant sight of Mars just north of the Moon.

Meteor Showers:

There are no major meteor showers predicted this month

The Phases of the Moon;

Last Quarter 6; New Moon 13; First Quarter 20; Full Moon 28.

The Full Moon in February is called the Snow Moon. This is the month when we are most likely to see snow and have the coldest weather.

Due to the current coronavirus situation there will be no meetings of the Earby Astronomical Society until further notice.

* Take a virtual trip into the Yorkshire Dales with the annual dark skies festival, which this year because of the coronavirus pandemic will be staged virtually, from February 12 to February 28.

The North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales national parks, together with Go Stargazing, have lined-up a host of experts to help bring the event into people’s homes.

Whether it’s discovering how bats use echoes to find their prey; posing questions to an astronomer while watching live pictures of the moon; or being amazed at an astronaut’s life during a space mission, the festival promises a bumper programme of discovery and entertainment for people of all ages.

Events are free or have a small charge attached and many need to be pre-booked by registering a place on the Go Stargazing website

For full details on the Virtual Dark Skies Festival programme go to