Here's the latest Night Sky column by Argus astronomy correspondent Jonathan Powell:

AFTER several years of drama-filled flights across the Martian surface, NASA’s plucky little ‘Ingenuity’ helicopter has come to the end of its flying days, suffering rotor-blade damage and rendering the craft inoperable.

Since its landing back in February 2021 alongside the Perseverance Rover, ‘Ingenuity’ has covered flown 72 flights covering 11 miles in total.

Weighing just 1.8 kilograms, ‘Ingenuity’ was the first aircraft to fly in the skies of another world.

Orion – The Hunter

During the second half of January, were we treated to a lovely conjunction as Jupiter appeared close to the Moon.

Nick Edwards, from Newport, caught the event and shared the image with The Night Sky.

South Wales Argus: Moon and Jupiter - Nick EdwardsMoon and Jupiter - Nick Edwards

For February’s edition though we turn to another glorious sight in the winter skies, the constellation of Orion, The Hunter, as he makes his way across the southern horizon.

During this month, why not try and frequent yourself with one of the most recognisable constellations on view, as Orion and his faithful doggy companions trek across the sky on their never-ending celestial journey.

Orion is basically two stars spread out at the top of the constellation, three ‘belt-stars’ below in the middle, with two further stars spread out at the base. Betelgeuse is the star to the top-left, Rigel positioned to the bottom-right.

Look below and to the left of Orion to locate Sirius, the Dog Star, and the brightest star in the entire sky.

Sirius lies in the constellation of Canis Major, the “Greater Dog”, with Canis Minor, the “Lesser Dog”. Using Betelgeuse as your starting point, sweep left for the bright star Procyon, marking the location of the “Lesser Dog”.

South Wales Argus: Orion and Canis Major - Jason MeadOrion and Canis Major - Jason Mead

While all of the stars in the heavens ‘twinkle’, Sirius really does seem to ‘flicker’ considerably. This is because its light has to pass through a thicker layer of the Earth’s atmosphere with all its distortions. Stars higher up or overhead twinkle less, as their light passes through a less thicker layer of atmosphere.

Betelgeuse remains the subject of much discussion.

The star is classed as a red supergiant star which will eventually go supernova, as it exhausts its fuel that keeps in burning so brightly.

All stars die; indeed, our very own Sun will use up all its fuel one day but unlike Betelgeuse, it is more stable in nature, making for no immediate threat of it running out of juice.

However, Betelgeuse is thought to be nearing its end and during 2023 the star showed noticeable variances in brightness, possibly attributable to the status of a dying star pre-supernova.

Despite the brightening and dimming, it really is all speculation. In 2019 there was also much debate as Betelgeuse seemed to be fading rapidly, an event astronomers referred to as the “Great Dimming”.

Interestingly, on December 11, 2023, an asteroid named 319 Leona passed between the Earth and Betelgeuse making for a truly historic and once in a lifetime sight, apparently "dimming" the star.

The asteroid was discovered in by a French astronomer, Auguste Charlois on October 8 ,1891, which has allowed astronomers since then to precisely calculate its size, around 31 miles in diameter, and its orbit, which takes it once around the Sun every six years and three months.

Plenty of professional astronomers were involved but rather fittingly, there was a serious amateur involvement in the monitoring the occultation with astrophysicist Miguel Montarges of the Paris Observatory at the heart of operations.

Pleiades Star Cluster

On the evening of Friday February 16 watch for a lovely pairing of the Moon and the Pleiades star cluster.

South Wales Argus: The Pleiades - Credit - European Space Agency (ESA)The Pleiades - Credit - European Space Agency (ESA)

As the skies darken, locate the Moon as it appears to pass just below the ‘Seven Sisters’.

This event is a perfect opportunity to learn about some of the vast distances between objects in space.

We have the Moon whose average distance from the Earth is 238,855 miles. However, The Pleiades is some 440 light-years distant. Remember, a light-year is equal to 5.879 trillion miles.

In essence, like all other celestial objects, we are staring back in time at how they all appeared many, many years ago.

The light travelling from the Pleiades star cluster was originally "sent" into space when Elizabeth I was on the throne and only now is it reaching us, some 440 years after her reign.

Situated in the constellation of Taurus, the Bull, the Pleiades make for fascinating study with most notably, even given its great distance, the fact that it is one of the closest star clusters to Earth.

The formation as we see it is slowly being pulled apart by gravitational forces imposed upon the stars by surrounding phenomena, meaning that in 250 million years’ time, the stars as we view them now, will be much more dispersed.

Collectively, there are some 3,000 stars making up the cluster, all less than 100 million years old, which by comparison, makes our own Sun which is 4.6 billion years old, seem like new deliveries in maternity.


Jupiter dazzles during the lengthening February evening skies, a truly brilliant and unmistakable object in the southern half of the heavens, dipping slowly night after night toward the southwest as the weeks pass.

On the evening of Wednesday February 14, watch for a lovely pairing of Jupiter and the crescent Moon, Jupiter appearing to the upper left. The following night Jupiter switches position, situated below the Moon.

South Wales Argus: Jupiter - Nick EdwardsJupiter - Nick Edwards

With Jupiter in the constellation of Aries, Saturn lies in the constellation of Aquarius, positioned low on the western horizon and distinctly dimmer in brightness when compared to Jupiter.

At the start of February, Saturn will be setting around the 7pm mark but by the middle part of the month, the advancing evening twilight will engulf the planet and make observation impossible.

In the dawn sky, Venus plays cat and mouse with the morning twilight, but can be spotted low in the south-east, rising at around 6am. By the end of February Venus will be lost in the morning twilight. On the morning of Wednesday February 7, a thin crescent Moon will be positioned to the right of Venus.

Full Moon

February’s full Moon will occur on Saturday February 24.

The aptly named ‘Snow Moon’ is also the first of three ‘micromoons’ in 2024, the second being March’s full Moon on the 25th, and the third being the new Moon on October 22.

Beginner’s corner

As a help to beginners to find their way around the night sky, use the Moon during February to try and locate some bright stars on view.

On Thursday February 1, the Moon is positioned to the north of Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.

On Monday February 5, the Moon is positioned to the north of Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius.

On Saturday February 17, the Moon is positioned to the north of Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus.

On Wednesday February 21, the Moon is positioned to the south of Pollux, the brightest star in the constellation of Gemini.

On Friday February 23, the Moon is positioned to the north of Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.

Society Meetings

Barry Astronomical Society. Monday February 19. 7pm. ‘Life in the Universe’ – Matt Griffin. Barry Community Centre, Cemetery Road, Barry, CF62 8BP.

Bridgend Astronomical Society. Wednesday February 21. 7pm. ‘Hoaxes, Myths, and Lies: Conspiracy Theories and their Dangers’ – Phill Wallace. Bridgend Tennis, Squash, and Bowls Club, Halo Rec Centre, Angel Street, CF31 4AH.

Cardiff Astronomical Society. Thursday February 1. 7.30 p.m. ‘The Solar System’s Planetary Frontiers’ – Dr Michael Roman. Cardiff University, Queen’s Buildings, The Parade, Cardiff, CF24 3AA.

Heads of the Valleys Astronomical Society. Tuesday February 6. 7pm. ‘Moons of the Solar System’ – Dave Thomas. Learning Action Centre, 20 James Street, Ebbw Vale, NP23 6JG

Moon phases

  • Third Quarter: February 2;
  • New Moon: February 9;
  • First Quarter: February 16;
  • Full Moon: February 24.

Sunrise/sunset times

  • Start of February: Sun rises at 7.51am. Sets at 5pm.
  • End of February: Sun rises at 6.58am. Sets at 5.51pm.