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Summer is the season of the scorpion. The constellation claws low across the south on summer nights. And it’s pretty easy to pick out. Its stars really do outline what looks like a scorpion — a wide, flat head; a long body curving to the lower left; and a sharp “stinger” at the end. And that outline is visible even from fairly light-polluted suburbs.
Scorpius is one of the 12 classical signs of the zodiac. In the pseudo-science of astrology, the Sun is “in” that sign for about a month, from late October to late November.
That has no relationship to the Sun’s true position. The Sun crosses the actual constellation from roughly November 23rd to the 28th. Scorpius is more than just the stick-figure outline of the scorpion. Astronomers have divided the sky into 88 constellations, each with its own formal borders, like the borders of states or countries. So we know to the minute when the Sun will both enter and exit the boundaries of the scorpion.
Scorpius lies along the plane of the Milky Way. When we look that way, we’re looking into the densest, thickest portion of the galaxy. So the constellation is filled with many bright stars, star clusters, and clouds of gas and dust. Several of the clusters and clouds are faintly visible to the unaided eye. But they require nice, dark skies — letting the wonders of the scorpion shine through on a summer night.
We’ll talk about a few of those wonders tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield