Thursday, July 22, 2010

Scorpius the Scorpion

Orion the mighty hunter was quite a braggart. He boasted that he could conquer any man, woman or beast on Earth and even tested the power of the gods. His vanity was so great that the goddess Hera created a vicious scorpion to humble Orion. Scorpius bit Orion on the foot and killed him with poison. Thus the mightiest warrior was slain by one of the tiniest creatures. O! how the gods laughed at that one! Orion still looms large in the winter sky - but hides from the Scorpion in the summer. Legend has it that Orion never wanted to see that awful scorpion again so they are never in the sky at the same time.

Scorpius lies low in the southern sky on summer evenings. He has three stars almost in a line just like Orion has in his belt. These three stars mark Scorpio’s head and two claws. A little down and to the left is Scorpio’s brightest star, ANTARES. Antares is a red supergiant star. In fact, it is one of the largest known stars in the galaxy. If Antares was our sun, it would fill up the entire orbit of Mars. We would be burned up inside it! But luckily Antares is 330 light years away.

Antares marks Scorpio’s heart and may even appear to be beating in the sky. It is a Greek word meaning “Rival of Mars,” because it is so red just like Mars. The Chinese called it the “Fire Star” for the same reason.

Follow Scorpio’s body down to the left and then the stars will start to curve upward. This is the scorpion’s tail and stinger that killed mighty Orion. The last star on the tail is a bright one called SHAULA, which means “The Sting” in Arabic.