Scorpius (“scorpion”) is a spectacular zodiac constellation with its beautiful arrangement of stars forming a head and long curving tail easily recognized as the creature it represents. This summer constellation is the 33rd biggest in the night sky, and also contains the 16th most luminous star, a red supergiant called Antares, which has a radius 850 times that of our own Sun. The constellation of Scorpius has a history dating back at least five thousand years, making it one of the oldest of the 88 recognized constellations.
Mythology: Represents a Scorpion
Scorpius represents the scorpion that was sent to kill Orion, the Hunter, as punishment for either his boastfulness, or his disrespect for the goddess Artemis, depending on the version of the myth being recounted. The creature was later rewarded for its service by being placed in the heavens, where it lies on the opposite side of the celestial sphere from Orion, such that when “The Hunter” sets in the west, Scorpius is seen rising in the east. The gods placed them on opposite ends of the heavens to avoid further trouble in the after-life, as Orion can never be seen when Scorpius is in the sky, and vice versa.
Location: A Southern Constellation
Scorpius can be seen from latitudes between +40° and -90° where it is found in the direction of the Milky Way nestled between the prominent constellations of Libra to the east, and Sagittarius to the west. Other neighbouring constellations include Ara, Corona Australis, Norma, and Ophiuchus.
Best Seen: Summer
In the northern hemisphere, the best time to observe Scorpius is during the summer months of July and August, when it can be seen traveling low along the southern horizon. In the southern hemisphere, it can be seen from March to October.
Shape: Resembles a Scorpion
Scorpius takes up an area of 497 square degrees, making it the 33rd biggest constellation in the night sky, and the 10th largest of the 12 zodiac constellations. Since it closely resembles a huge scorpion, it is almost impossible to miss in the sky. Look for the vivid red star Antares that forms its heart, and the shape of a scorpion will jump out at you.
Meteor Showers: Alpha Scorpiids, Omega Scorpiids
The Alpha Scorpiids persist from April 16th to about May 9th, with a peak on May 3rd when a maximum hourly rate of about 5 meteors per hour can be expected. The second stream, the Omega Scorpiids, runs from late May to early June, peaking on about the 5th of June, with a maximum rate of about 5 meteors per hour.
Notable Stars: Antares (1st magnitude)
– Antares (Alpha Scorpii) is the most luminous star in the constellation with an apparent visual magnitude of 0.96, also making it the 16th most luminous star in the entire sky. The red supergiant marks the head of the scorpion, and its name means ‘rival of Ares’, the Greek war god whose Roman equivalent was Mars, as the star’s brightness and color rivals that of even the red planet Mars. Antares is located 550 light years away, and is estimated to be only about 12 million years old. It is also about 15 to 18 times as massive as the Sun, about 883 as big, and at least 10,000 times as luminous.
– Shaula (Lambda Scorpii) is the second most luminous star in the constellation with a magnitude of 1.62, also making it the 25th most luminous star in the sky. It represents the scorpion’s stinger, and is a three star system located around 700 light years distant.
– Acrab (Graffias, Beta Scorpii) is a complicated multi-star system consisting of several pairs of binary stars orbiting each other. It has an apparent magnitude of 2.56, making it the 93rd brightest star in the sky.
Notable Objects: Many Star Clusters, Nebulae
Scorpius’ proximity to the Milky Way means this constellation is home to many deep-sky objects, including the Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334), the War and Peace Nebula (NGC 6357), and the Butterfly Nebula (NGC 6302). It also contains a number of beautiful star clusters, including the following:
– Messier 4 (NGC 6121) is about 7,200 light years away, 75 light years across, and with an apparent visual magnitude of 5.9.
– Messier 7 (Ptolemy Cluster) is yet another pretty open star cluster located near the scorpion’s stinger. Even though the cluster contains only about 80 stars it is an easy naked-eye target, since it is relatively bright at an apparent visual magnitude of 3.3.
– Messier 80 (NGC 6093) is located about 32,600 light years away, is 95 light years across and has an apparent visual magnitude of 7.87. This star clusters is packed with several hundred thousand stars, including a large number of blue stragglers, which are stars that are much younger and brighter than the majority of the cluster’s old, red stars.
Planets: 27 Stars with 34+Planets
The 27 stars with planetary systems in Scorpius have 34 planets between them, with three planets being in the habitable zones of their stars. One star also has a planet with a potentially habitable moon.
Astrology: Oct 23 to Nov 21
Each year the Sun passes in front of this constellation for just one week between November 22nd and November 29th, the shortest amount of time by any of the constellation of the Zodiac. But remember this applies to the constellation Scorpius, and not the astrology sign Scorpio, where the Sun is assumed to pass through between October 23rd and November 21st.
Date of Birth: Oct 23 to Nov 21
Sign Ruler: Pluto, Mars
Birth Stone: Turquoise, malachite, golden topaz
Color: Deep red
Characteristics: Rational, intelligent, independent, intuitive, insightful
Compatibility: Cancer, Capricorn, and Pisces
Scorpius Used to be Bigger
During ancient Greek times, Scorpius was a lot bigger, and consisted of two parts, one that comprised the scorpion’s claws, and another that formed the scorpion’s body and stinger. In the first century BC, the Romans broke up the constellation, creating the constellation Libra out of the scorpions claws, which were known as “Chelae” up to that point.