A constellation with a split personality is beginning its annual migration across the southern evening sky. It’s not especially bright, but it’s close to a more prominent constellation, which makes it easier to find.

Libra stands to the upper right of Scorpius as night falls, low in the southeast. Its classical outline shows a triangle of stars, with a couple of lines of stars dangling below.

Libra represents a set of balance scales held by the Greek goddess of justice, Astrea. She\’s represented by the nearby constellation Virgo.

Libra may have gained its reputation for balance because it represented balance in the heavens. Thousands of years ago, the Sun passed across the constellation at the time of the autumn equinox — a time when day and night are roughly equal lengths — a time of balance.

But Libra also has a second story — as the claws of Scorpius. It was known as the scorpion’s claws as far back as ancient Babylon. In fact, the proper names of several of Libra’s brighter stars represent that history. Zubeneschemali is an Arabic name that means “the northern claw.” Zubenelgenubi is “the southern claw.” And Zubenelakrab is simply “the scorpion’s claw.”

Zubenelgenubi is at the top of the constellation’s triangle of stars, so it represents the fulcrum of the scales. Zubeneschemali is to its upper left in early evening, with Zubenelakrab below it — the severed claws of the scorpion turned into the scales of justice.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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