The Shield

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The Shield

A small, faint “shield” of stars scoots across the southern sky on early summer 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 fairly empty 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 all across Europe by defending Vienna against the 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. The shield 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, it’s low in the southeast as night falls. It’s to the upper left of the teapot-shaped constellation Sagittarius. Scutum wheels low across the south during the night, and is in the southwest at dawn.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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