The scorpion has a potent stinger — a pair of bright stars at the tip of its curving body. They’re low in the southern sky as night falls, with the rest of Scorpius curling to their upper right.
The brighter star in the stinger is known as Lambda Scorpii. It’s the second-brightest star in Scorpius, so it’s hard to miss. Fainter Upsilon Scorpii stands close to its right.
Lambda actually consists of three stars. The main star is more than 10 times as massive as the Sun, so it burns through its nuclear fuel in a hurry. It’ll soon begin to exhaust that supply, so it’ll puff outward. The star will engulf its closer companion, which is only a few million miles away. That may destroy the companion, perhaps sending its core spiraling into the core of the main star. And that may hasten the demise of the main star, which is likely to explode as a supernova.
Upsilon is a single star, but it’s also a stunner. It’s about 10 times the Sun’s mass, and many thousands of times its brilliance.
Although Lambda and Upsilon appear quite close together, they’re dozens of light-years apart. Even so, the stars are related. They were born from the same giant complex of gas and dust. This region has given birth to many massive stars, including Antares, the scorpion’s bright orange heart. But the stars are only loosely bound together, so they’re moving apart — spreading their brilliance across the galaxy.
Script by Damond Benningfield