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June 26, 2011

A small, faint "shield" of stars climbs high across the southern sky tonight. It represents the coat of arms on the shield of John Sobieski, a 17th-century king of Poland and one of that country's greatest heroes.

The shield is the constellation Scutum. Johannes Hevelius created it around 1687, using a few stars from a relatively dark region of the sky. Its original name was Scutum Sobiescianum -- the shield of Sobieski. But in more recent times, the last part of the name was 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 across all of Europe by defending Vienna against the invading Ottoman army.

Hevelius, who was born in Poland, included the new constellation in a beautiful star atlas. He depicted several faint stars as the cross on Sobieski's shield. Scutum Sobiescianum has kept its place in the stars ever since the atlas was published in 1690.

Unfortunately, Scutum is a faint constellation. You need fairly dark skies to see any of its stars. Look for it low in the southeast beginning about 10 or 11 o'clock. It's roughly between the teapot-shaped constellation Sagittarius, and the bright star Altair, which is well to the left of the teapot. The shield of Sobieski climbs across the southern sky during the night.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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