Every year during the first two weeks of July, I always seem to come up with a column dealing with a unique member of the zodiacal constellations, Scorpio the Scorpion.
Although there will be a little duplication with this column and others I’ve written before at this time of year, the seasonal movement of the southern stars is something I can’t get around.
This time of year is a good time to go out and see if you can locate the celestial insect now “wriggling” through the southern skies just above our local horizon.
I always look forward to pointing my telescope to the south to view the constellation of Scorpio because what makes this particular stellar grouping so neat is that it lies immersed in the Milky Way and stands out clearly against those faint star clouds.
I’ve always believed that there are only two constellations that actually resemble what they are supposed to be: a scorpion in Scorpius and a lion in Leo.
Facing south, look for the fan shape of the three stars that mark the scorpion’s head and claws, follow the curving line of the insect’s body as it moves down to the right and ends with the curving tail and stinger marked by the star Shaula.
The most recognizable star in Scorpius is the first magnitude Antares, which will be found just to the lower left of the middle star in the fan and marks the heart of the insect.
To the ancient Romans, Antares was referred to as Cor Scorpionis, “Heart of the Scorpion.” This particular star is also called the “Rival of Mars” because its reddish coloration is so near that of Mars.
Conservative estimates place Antares at little over 500 light years away from Earth and it is classed as a red super giant with a diameter in excess of 600 million miles.
With summer being in full gear, the heat we receive from our Sun will become more pronounced. But consider this: Antares is 9,000 times more luminous than our Sun, but has a mass only 10 to 15 times that of the Sun. Some theories place Antares in a classification of “Very Hot Vacuum.”
Because of the scorpion’s position in the Milky Way, it is the home to a multitude of star clusters, globular clusters and double stars.
One of these globular clusters, listed as M-4, can be found just to the lower left of Antares.
Using a pair of binoculars, M-4 will look not unlike a fuzzy patch of light; a mottled haze when using a small telescope. It is only when you observe the cluster with a 4- to 6-inch telescope that the individual stars can be resolved.
Scorpius is rich in mythological writings with perhaps the best being from the Greeks who recognize the scorpion as the insect who bested the great hunter Orion.
Orion was impervious to spears and arrows and any other type of danger but all it took was for the lowly scorpion to sting him on the heel to bring about his demise. It is interesting to note that Scorpius and Orion are on opposite sides of the heavens to keep them separated.
While you’re out looking at Scorpio, another bright object just to the upper left of Antares might get your attention.
It is not a star but the giant planet of our solar system, Jupiter. The main drawback to viewing Jupiter is that it is only when using a telescope can observers observe the tremendous cloud structures, which encircle the planet’s equator. A good pair of binoculars, however, will clearly show the four Galilean moons that orbit Jupiter: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.