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Perhaps like me, you are getting comfortable with warm summer nights.  And if the sky is clear and the mosquitoes tolerable, one of the advantages of those warm nights is being able to observe the constellations and other sky objects in relative comfort. 

Some of the more notable summer constellations include Scorpius the scorpion, Hercules, Lyra the lyre, and Cygnus the swan.  And to help you with finding the constellations there is an abundance of information available on the web, at your local library, and of course apps.  And of course, there is “app for that!”  Actually, there are several apps for star gazing and constellations.  Some are free, while others charge a nominal fee. 

I have found Scorpius the scorpion to be one of the easier summer constellations to identify.  Scorpius will be near the southern horizon as the sky darkens.  The sun will be setting around 9:30-9:45 CDT over the next week or so.  Scorpius will be fully exposed as soon as it is dark enough to see the stars.

Scorpius is shaped like a fishhook.  The “hook,” representing the scorpion’s tail will be to the left and curled upward.  To the right and trending upward will be the a few stars connecting to the scorpion’s head, which consists of three stars somewhat vertically arranged.  The heart of Scorpius is the star Antares. Antares is the brightest star in Scorpius and is also the sixteenth brightest star in the sky.

Antares is a rather interesting star. This red supergiant is out there 550 light years away.  It has a mass of about 15-18 suns, is around 10,000 times as bright as our sun, and is around 12 million years old.  Antares has a distinctive reddish tint, which is related to the star’s name.  Antares in Greek translates “like Mars,” an apparent reference to the color similarity with Mars. 

Scorpius, you may recall, is named for the scorpion that killed Orion in Greek mythology.    There are at least two versions of how that all transpired.  One version has Orion trying to force himself on the goddess Artemis.  Artemis, to extract some retribution, sent the scorpion after Orion.  Another version has the scorpion taking on Orion after he boasted that he could kill any wild animal.

Do some star-gazing this summer.  And be sure to become familiar with Scorpius, the constellation and the mythology surrounding it. 

~Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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