The evening skies of summer are more thinly settled than those of winter — there are fewer bright stars to dazzle the eye. Even so, summer offers a few delights that are all its own. The two most prominent are the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius, which scoot across the south during the night.
Scorpius is due south as the sky gets good and dark. Under even moderately dark skies, it really does look like a scorpion, with a slightly curving body and a long tail with a nasty-looking “stinger” at the end.
The scorpion is most easily identified by its bright “heart” — the star Antares. Its strong orange color will help you pick it out. The scorpion’s head extends to the upper right of Antares, with its tail to the lower left.
Sagittarius stands farther to the left of Antares. But this constellation looks very little like its namesake, the archer — a centaur holding a bow. Instead, it’s best marked by a pattern of eight fairly bright stars that forms the outline of a teapot, with the handle to the left and the spout to the right.
Under dark skies, you’ll see some “steam” rising from the spout — the hazy band of the Milky Way — the combined glow of millions of stars in the flat disk of our home galaxy. The center of the galaxy is hidden behind a dark cloud that interrupts the steam — a cloud of dust that absorbs the light of the stars beyond, blocking the view of what otherwise would be another treat for summer evenings.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.