Summer’s Celestial Scorpion


Scorpius in the southern sky
Look south during summer evenings to see the Celestial Scorpion.

The Celestial Scorpion glides across the summer sky during summer.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Scorpius crawls across the southern sky during July from the mid-northern latitudes.  Look low in the southern sky for rosy Antares, the Scorpion’s heart.  The body, tail and stinger resemble a fishhook or letter “J” as they curve toward the horizon and back up into the sky.

Antares is classified as a supergiant star.  It is very larger than our sun, but it is not as hot as our central star’s 10,000°F surface temperature. 

Unlike the artist’s conception of color and temperature, bluer stars are hotter than redder stars.  Our sun is yellow-white and considered an average star in size and temperature.

The classic pincers of the celestial arachnid are marked by Zubenelgenubi (the southern claw) and Zubeneschamali (the northern claw).  They are part of Libra in today’s division of constellations.

When looking toward this region of the sky, we are generally looking in the direction of the galaxy’s center.  Star clouds, gas clouds, and dusty regions are visible here.  Scan across the southern sky and higher in the sky.  Many fascinating features are here.

On the chart above, the spot labelled M4 is a star cluster to the right (west) of Antares. Through a binocular or small telescope, the cluster looks like a small cotton ball.  In a dark location, the cluster is visible to the unaided eye.

 The catalog of celestial objects was first assembled by Charles Messier, an 18th century French astronomer who cataloged star clusters and gas clouds as he searched for comets.  Today, many amateur astronomers seek out the over 100 objects in Messier’s list. The Astronomical League awards star gazers an award for observing the entire register of interesting celestial objects.

Two additional “M objects, “ M6 and M7, are visible.  This star cluster pair is unlike the globular cluster of M4. They resemble tiny jewels scattered across the dark velvet of the sky.

This region of the sky is best viewed when the moon is in a crescent phase or absent from the sky.

On the next clear, moonless evening, take a look southward for the Celestial Scorpion and is wonders.

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