Summer is a good time to do a little star gazing, and with sundown a little earlier now, you don’t have to stay up quite so late to do it. We are heading toward a full moon on the 12th, but it will wane to a new moon on the 26th. So if the sky is clear over the next few weeks, stargazing could be quite good.
There are, of course, several summer constellations to look for, but perhaps the most conspicuous summer constellation is Scorpius (the scorpion). Scorpius can be found in the southern sky starting around dusk. It will move slowly across the southern horizon until fully dipping out of sight in the southwest around one or two o’clock in morning.
Scorpius has the shape of a fishhook with the eye at the upper right, thus trending downward and to the left toward the hook which is facing upward. To visualize the scorpion, look for its heart, which is Antares (“An tair eez”), the sixteenth brightest star in the sky. Once you find Antares, you can see that the scorpion is facing to the west. The head lies upward and to the right of Antares and consists of three nearly vertically arranged stars. To the lower left of Antares is the rest of the body, ending with the tail, which of course coils back on top of the body.
One story in Greek Mythology has Orion being killed by a scorpion. Orion once boasted that he could kill all the animals on the earth. Gaea, the Goddess of Earth was disturbed by such a boast, and to save the animals in case Orion ever acted on his boast, sent the scorpion after him. A battle commenced, and the scorpion killed Orion. So Orion and Scorpius are now placed in the heavens, but on opposite sides of the sky to prevent the possibility of a rematch.
Once you find Scorpius you will also likely find Sagittarius (the archer) which follows Scorpius across the night sky. Sagittarius is imagined as a centaur facing westward (to the right) with his bow drawn on Scorpius. You will notice that the arrow is pointing right at Antares, which you will recall is Scorpius’s heart.
There are lots of resources available to help you with navigating the night sky, including your local library and bookstores. There is also a wealth of relevant information and several star charts available on the internet and as apps. So whatever your preference, find some time to do some star gazing this summer. Better yet, find someone to share the experience with you.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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