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Scorpion’s Head

July 12, 2017

Everything about Scorpius is impressive. It’s a prominent constellation that really does resemble its namesake. Its leading light, Antares, is one of the brightest stars in the night sky. And its wide “head” contains many stars, some of which are destined for brilliant final acts.

Scorpius is in the south at nightfall. The scorpion’s head stands to the upper right of bright orange Antares, and is outlined by three stars. From top to bottom, they’re Beta, Delta, and Pi Scorpii.

Beta is actually a system of at least six stars, which are divided into two tight-knit groups. A couple of the stars are more than 20,000 times brighter than the Sun. Delta Scorpii consists of two stars, and one of those also shines fiercely. And Pi Scorpii has at least three stars, including one more brilliant beacon.

All or most of these stars formed from a vast complex of gas and dust that spans Scorpius and the nearby constellation Centaurus. In the last 15 million years or so, it’s given birth to thousands of stars. And quite a few of them are especially heavy, which makes them especially hot and bright.

The stars at the top end of the weight scale will live short lives — in fact, some of them probably will expire in the next few million years. And when they die, they’ll blast themselves to bits. For a while, such a conflagration will outshine anything in the night sky except the Moon — briefly adding to the impressiveness of the scorpion.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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