Every year in June and July, I always look forward to writing and pointing my telescope south to see the constellation Scorpio, Scorpius.
What makes this stellar grouping so neat is that it is immersed in the Milky Way and stands out clearly against the faint star clouds.
Scorpio is the only one of the 12 zodiacal formations that fall into the insect category, and if you have clear skies to the south, it’s not hard at all to find this remarkable constellation.
I’ve always thought Scorpio and Leo should be highlighted as the only two constellations that actually look like they’re supposed to.
Starting with the fan-like shape of the three stars that mark the scorpion’s head and claws, follow the curved line of the insect’s body as it descends to the left and ends, with the tail and stinger curled up.
The most notable star in Scorpio is a reddish star named Antares, located just lower left of the middle star in the fan.
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Conservative estimates place Antares just over 500 light-years from Earth and is a supergiant star with a diameter of over 500 million miles.
As the Midwest moves ever closer to the onset of summer, the heat from our Sun becomes more pronounced. Antares is 9,000 times brighter than our Sun, but has a mass 10 to 15 times that of the Sun. Some theories place Antares in a “very hot vacuum” classification.
Due to scorpio’s position in the Milky Way, it is home to a multitude of star clusters, globular clusters, and double stars. One of these globular clusters, listed as M-4, is just to the lower right of Antares.
Using a pair of binoculars, M-4 will look like a fuzzy patch of light, a mottled haze when using a small telescope. Only when you observe the cluster with a 4-6 inch telescope can the individual stars be resolved.
The Scorpion is rich in mythological writings, perhaps the best coming from the Greeks who recognize the scorpion as the insect that defeated the great hunter, Orion.
Orion was thought to be impervious to spears and arrows and any other kind of danger and it took the lowly scorpion stinging him in the heel to bring about his death. Interestingly, Scorpius and Orion are on opposite sides of the heavens to keep them separated.