Missing Claws

Missing Claws

Scorpius is missing its claws. The celestial scorpion has a curving body, a wide head, a bright heart, and a prominent stinger. But if you look at depictions in modern atlases, it doesn’t have claws. Those stars were stripped away to form part of Libra, the balance scales.

         Yet the stars that once represented the claws have maintained their arachnoid names. Zubeneschamali comes from an Arabic name that means “the northern claw.” And Zubenelgenubi is “the southern claw.”

         Zubeneschamali is the brighter of the two. It’s a single star about 185 light-years from Earth. The star probably is about 80 million years old, although the number could be off by a good bit in either direction. Either way, it’s only a tiny fraction the age of the Sun.

         The star is quite impressive. It’s about three and a half times the mass of the Sun, and about 130 times the Sun’s brightness. Because of its surface temperature, it shines white or blue­-white. Over the centuries, though, many skywatchers have described it as green — perhaps a simple trick of the eye.

         Zubenelgenubi is more complicated. It consists of two pairs of stars. The pairs are separated by more than 5,000 times the distance from Earth to the Sun. And a star that’s even farther away may be bound to the system as well — giving the southern claw at least five stars.

         Look for these stars in the southeast as night falls, to the upper right of the scorpion’s head.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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