Stargazing Lovers: Spot the Valentine’s Day Star

Bored by chocolates and jaded with roses? Give your sweetie the gift of the heavens for Valentine’s Day this year.


I’m talking about the Valentine’s Day star, which graces the skies with its brilliant red glow each year in early February.

—Image courtesy A. Dupree (CfA), R. Gilliland (STScI), NASA

Now, this isn’t exactly a name recognized by the International Astronomical Union—officially the Valentine’s Day star is called Betelgeuse (pronounced kinda like “beetlejuice”).

The holiday-themed moniker was coined by famed stargazer Jack Horkheimer, and there’s a bunch of reasons why it’s pretty darn apt. So step one will be to understand why the star is so romantic, and step two will be to find it!

Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star about as wide as Jupiter’s orbit around the sun.

It’s also a variable star, which means that its atmosphere is expanding and contracting, causing its light to pulse on a semi-regular basis, on average about once every six years.

In other words, the star is like a huge, red beating heart in the sky.

This year, skywatchers will get a little help finding the Valentine’s Day star from Venus, goddess of love.

Okay, technically Venus the planet, but you get the idea. The evening star should be especially easy to spot on February 14 anytime after dark in the southern sky.


—Image courtesy A. Dupree (CfA), R. Gilliland (STScI), NASA

Look for it around 8 or 9 p.m. eastern time, then face south and you should be able to see Orion, the Hunter.

This iconic grouping of stars has always been my favorite constellation, no so much because I love hunting [I don’t] but because my father served on the now decommissioned Navy ship the U.S.S. Orion, which got us stationed on the Italian island of La Maddalena when I was a teenager [score!].

But I digress.

If you imagine the hunter gazing down on you from above, Betelgeuse is Orion’s right shoulder. Even to the naked eye it shines red, especially compared to its fellow stars in the group.

Sadly, there’s a chance Orion’s cosmic heart has already been broken.

Betelgeuse is too big to live for long—stars that size burn up their fuel pretty fast compared to smaller, sunlike stars, which can live for billions of years.

Scientists think Betelgeuse has already hit the ripe old age of 8.5 million years, and if it hasn’t gone supernova by now, it will in the next century or so.

Alternatively, if you prefer your space romance with a techie twist, check out the stereoscopic Rosette Nebula over at Universe Today. It may cross your eyes, but it’s sure to open your heart.

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