The dimming star Betelgeuse is acting weird. Here's how to spot it in Orion's shoulder.

Betelgeuse and its constellation, Orion, as seen in the evening sky in February 2020.
Betelgeuse and its constellation, Orion, as seen in the evening sky in February 2020. (Image credit: Starry Night software)

One of the brightest stars you'll see in the sky these days is Betelgeuse, whose red tones provide a fun skywatching target in February.

This monster star is about 1,000 times the size of our sun, according to NASA, and sits on the shoulder of the famous constellation Orion. The star is variable, meaning that it brightens and dims periodically. Lately, it's been dimming more, leading scientists to speculate that Betelgeuse could be somewhat close to a supernova explosion, in which the star would run out of gas to burn, then blow up.

You can easily find Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion anytime between November and February. RIght now, in New York City, Betelgeuse is rising in daylight, so you'll see it as soon as the sky darkens enough. The star is remaining above the horizon until a few hours before dawn. You can check your local times using SkySafari, a free app for Android or iPhone.

Related: The brightest planets in February's night sky: How to see them (and when)

Here's how to track down Betelgeuse: Once you go outside, give your eyes a few minutes to get adjusted to the darkness. Then turn to the southwestern sky in the Northern Hemisphere (the northwestern sky in the Southern Hemisphere) and look for the distinctive star pattern of Orion, centered on the three stars of its belt.

If you imagine Orion as its namesake, "the hunter," Betelgeuse marks the left-hand shoulder. The star is so bright and red, even in light-polluted areas, that you can't miss it. Betelgeuse is easily visible to the eye, and you won't see much more detail using binoculars or a telescope.

The star is so intriguing that the Hubble Space Telescope periodically turns its powerful gaze on Betelgeuse to see what scientists can learn. One particularly intriguing observation found a massive hotspot, the cause of which is still unknown, according to the European Space Agency

During its current dimming spree, you can track Betelgeuse's activity and submit your observations to the American Association of Variable Star Observers to help the group gather more information on its variability. More details on how to participate are here.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: