One of the stars that marks the head of the scorpion is like a matryoshka doll — it has lots of hidden layers. To the eye alone, it looks like a single point of light. To a telescope, it looks like two stars. And to special astronomical instruments, it looks like at least six stars.
Beta Scorpii is at the left side of a row of stars that represents the head of Scorpius. It’s low in the southeast at nightfall, above Antares, the scorpion’s bright orange heart.
The entire system is about 400 light-years away. And it’s probably only a few million years old.
The brighter of the two stars visible through a telescope is in fact a binary on its own. And one of those stars also consists of two stars, for a total of three.
The stars of the close double are the most impressive of the entire system. One of them is about 10 times as massive as the Sun, and about 8,000 times brighter. The other is about 15 times the Sun’s mass and 30,000 times its brightness. At such great heft, both stars likely will explode as supernovae. The bigger star will go first, sometime in the next few million years.
The other point visible through a telescope also consists of three stars — one on its own, the other two in a tight pairing. They’re not as impressive as the members of the other tight pair. Even so, one of them may be near the mass required to become a supernova. So bright, busy Beta Scorpii could have an even brighter future.
Script by Damond Benningfield