A small, faint “shield” of stars scoots across the southwestern sky on these early autumn nights. It represents the coat of arms on the shield of John Sobieski, a 17th-century king of Poland and one of the country’s great national heroes.

The shield is the constellation Scutum. Johannes Hevelius first drew it around 1687, using a few stars from a relatively barren region of the sky. He originally named it Scutum Sobiescianum — the shield of Sobieski. But in more recent times, the last part of the name has been dropped.

Sobieski became king of Poland in 1674. He built alliances with several European neighbors, and fought the Ottoman empire when it tried to expand westward. In 1683, he earned fame across all of Europe by defending Vienna against the invading Ottoman army.

To honor his native country, Hevelius included the new constellation in a beautiful star atlas, which was published in 1690. He depicted several faint stars as the cross on Sobieski’s shield. Scutum Sobiescianum has kept its place in the stars ever since then.

Unfortunately, the stellar shield isn’t all that much to look at. You need fairly dark skies to see any of its stars. Right now, look for it in the southwest as night falls. It’s above the teapot-shaped constellation Sagittarius. The shield of Sobieski drops down the southwestern sky during the evening, and sets after not long after midnight.

Script by Damond Benningfield


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