YOU have probably heard of the Super Moon, but did you know we also have the Micro Moon?

The Moon takes around one month to orbit the Earth. Its normal distance from us is 239,000 miles. The Super Moon is when the Moon appears larger in the sky than normal because it is closer to us, but of course the opposite can also happen; occasions when the moon is further away than normal and we have a Micro Moon. On February 24 we will see the first Micro Moon of the year.

A Super Moon is less than 230,000 miles away while the Micro moon is more than 250,000 miles away. The discrepancy happens because the Moon does not orbit the Earth in a circle but in an ellipse or egg shape.

The winter skies in February are as impressive as 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 distance 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 huge numbers are very unwieldy and the problem becomes worse for stars that are at much greater distances.

It is a question of scale; if we wanted to measure the distance from Skipton 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, who used to watch for Sirius to rise in the morning sky just before the Sun.

This was the signal that the river Nile would shortly flood, and a prompt to make sure their fields were prepared and sown, 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 sky, Orion, the superb signpost constellation 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 looks like a small fuzzy patch of sky.

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. 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: Jupiter can now be seen in the south western part of the sky. It still appears as a bright white spot. The only other planet we can see this month is Venus which can be seen in the south east early in the morning sky before the Sun rises.

The other naked eye planets; Mars, Mercury and Saturn, are now all too close to the Sun to be seen.

Meteor Showers; There are no major meteor showers predicted for this month, but it is always worthwhile having a look for what astronomers call a sporadic meteor or shooting star. If you stand outside for around 15 minutes you will be unlucky not see at least one. There are far more meteors to be seen than people might imagine.

The Phases of the Moon: Last Quarter February 2; New Moon 9; First Quarter 16; Full Moon 24.

On February 21 there will a wonderful line up of the Moon and Castor and Pollux, the two brightest stars in the constellation of Gemini the Twins. The three bodies will form a line in the sky.

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 of the year.

I hope everyone has the chance to see some great crispy-clear night skies this month.