Star Constellation Facts: Scorpius the Scorpion

Star Constellation Facts: Scorpius, the Scorpion
Alexander Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas (1822)

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.

Represents: Scorpion that killed Orion

Scorpius represents the scorpion that was sent to kill Orion the Hunter as punishment for his boastfulness and disrespect for the goddess Artemis, after he bragged he would hunt and kill every wild animal on Earth. After a fierce fight, the creature accomplished the task, and 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 afterlife, as well as a reminder for humans to curb their excessive arrogance and pride.

Used to Include Libra

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, and in Babylon was known as MUL.GIR.TAB, literally meaning “the (creature with) a burning sting”. 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 scorpion’s claws, which were known as “Chelae” up to that point.

Location: Southern Constellation

Scorpius: The Scorpion

Scorpius takes up an area of 497 square degrees of the celestial heavens, making it the 10th largest of the 12 zodiac constellations. It can be seen from between latitudes of +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 neighboring constellations include Ara, Corona Australis, Norma, and Ophiuchus. 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.

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.

Notable Stars: Antares (1st  magnitude)

– Antares (Alpha Scorpii), the most luminous star in the constellation,  is located 550 light years away and shines with an apparent visual magnitude of 0.96, making it the 16th brightest star in the entire sky. This 12 million years old red supergiant is around 883 times bigger than the Sun, 18 times more massive, and at least 10,000 times brighter. It also marks the head of the scorpion, with its name meaning “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 itself.

Scorpius: The Scorpion– Shaula (Lambda Scorpii), the second most luminous star in Scorpius, is a multiple system located around 700 light years from our star system with an apparent magnitude of 1.62. It is also the 25th most luminous star in the sky, with its brightest component being a blue subgiant (B1.5IV+) that is around 15 times more massive than our sun. Shaula represents the scorpion’s stinger, and derives from the Arabic phrase for “the raised [tail]”.

– Sargas (Theta Scorpii), the constellation’s third brightest star, is a yellow giant (F0 II) situated 300 light years distant of magnitude 1.87. It is around 26 times bigger than the Sun, 6 times more massive, and 1,834 times brighter. It also has a faint companion star that is separated by 6.470 arcseconds.

Other stars of interest in Scorpius include Dschubba (Delta Scorpii) representing the scorpion’s forehead, Al Niyat (Sigma Scorpii) marking the arteries around its heart, Epsilon Scorpii (Wei) depicting the tail, and Beta Scorpii (Acrab) meaning the “Scorpion”. The constellation also includes the blue subgiants Al Niyat (Tau Scorpii), and Lesath (Upsilon Scorpii); and the yellow stars Eta Scorpii, 18 Scorpii and HD 159868; as well as several multi-star systems such as Girtab (Kappa Scorpii), Pi Scorpii, Jabbah (Nu Scorpii), Girtab (Xi Scorpii), Iota Scorpii, Al Niyat (Sigma Scorpii), Rho Scorpii, Gliese 667, PSR B1620-26

Notable Objects: Many Star Clusters, Nebulae

Scorpius’ proximity to the Milky Way means the constellation is home to many deep-sky objects (DSOs) worth viewing through your telescope. These include a number of beautiful star clusters, four of which are Messier objects, namely:

– M4 (NGC 6121) is a globular cluster that is 75 light-years across, situated about 7,200 light-years distant, and shines with an apparent visual magnitude of 5.9. It is 12.2 billion years old, and contains over 20,000 stars, including more than 43 variable stars.

– M6 (Butterfly Cluster) is an open cluster that is 6 light-years wide, 1,600 light years away, and shines with an apparent magnitude of +4.2. It is about 95 million years old, and contains around 80 stars.

Ptolemy Cluster– M7 (Ptolemy Cluster) is an open star cluster of around 80 stars that is located 800 light years from Earth. This pretty cluster found near the scorpion’s stinger has an apparent visual magnitude of +3.3, making it an easy naked-eye target, since it is the brightest deep-sky object in the constellation. It is also the southernmost Messier object in the night sky.

– M80 (NGC 6093) is a globular cluster that is 95 light-years across, and located about 32,600 light years away with an apparent visual magnitude of 7.87. It 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.

Butterfly NebulaOther non-Messier star clusters in Scorpius include the Northern Jewel Box Cluster (NGC 6231), NGC 6281, and NGC 6124. In the constellation can also be found several beautiful nebulae, including the Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334), the War and Peace Nebula (NGC 6357), and the Butterfly Nebula (NGC 6302), which is a bipolar planetary nebula situated 3,800 light years away with a wingspan of 3 light years, and a visual magnitude of +7.1.

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.

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 constellations 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
  • Element: Water
  • Birth Stone: Turquoise, malachite, golden topaz
  • Metal: Steel
  • Color: Deep red
  • Characteristics: Rational, intelligent, independent, intuitive, insightful
  • Compatibility: Cancer, Capricorn, and Pisces

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