Scorpius – the scorpion

October 16, 2016


scorpieThe summer sky is dominated by a constellation named Scorpius, the scorpion. It has lots of bright stars in a long swooping curved shape like a fish hook. The brightest star in the line-up is a huge red one smack dab in the heart of the beast, named Antares. The scorpion is formidable. He’s hard to miss.

Like all the groups along the yearly path of the sun, Scorpius has spawned lots of entertaining starlore. Many natives of the south pacific call it “Maui’s Hook.” You see, Maui is one of the gods down there, and they say he is quite powerful, but a crappy fisherman. One day he was fishing in the ocean and his hook got caught on the bottom. He thought it was a big fish so he pulled really hard, and he pulled up New Zealand.
Some people in western culture call these stars Scorpio, but that’s a very new thing, perhaps a few hundred years tops. He’s been Scorpius much longer and that’s the official designation. In one language or another he’s been the scorpion for thousands of years. He’s one of the earliest groups to get a name once the Babylonians decided the zodiac needed to be chopped up into parts. Other cultures added their own stories along the way.

To the Greeks the Scorpius story involves Orion. The Big O has his own stories of course, he goes on one goofy adventure after another and in general is a hit with the ladies. Eventually he falls in love with Artemis, who is also a hunter it so happens, and also in charge of the moon. Night after night she leaves the moon and comes down to hang out with Orion, and they run around the forest half naked, alternating between smooching and shooting arrows at random animals.

They were so good at it, the shooting part, that the forest was running out of animals. Meanwhile, Artemis’ brother, Apollo, was getting tired of her being all slutty and not tending to moon business. He told Gaia about all this and she sent Scorpius the giant scorpion to settle the score.

Orion_vs_Scorpius_02Orion and the Scorpion hated each other. They fought for days. It was a horrendous battle. They knocked down trees, leveled mountains, woke up babies etc. The hunter finally kills the beast but gets stung in the process. He dies and Artemis is understandably upset. She begs Zeus to at least turn Orion into stars and put him up in the sky. As far as I can tell, Zeus has never denied such a request. But he also turned Scorpius into stars and put him up there too.

Once Orion and Scorpius are made out of stars, and they’re up in the sky, they start duking it out causing all sorts of ruckus just like they did on earth. So Zeus puts Orion in the winter, and Scorpius in the summer. Now they can’t even see each other anymore. You can’t see them both at the same time, unless you like go to the moon or something, in which case say hi to Artemis for me.

zeuss_02Scorpius use to be a much bigger constellation. Until a couple of thousand years ago, Libra was his huge claws. The Romans at that time started mucking about with the calendar and the constellations. Most of the meddling with the sky maps was ignored by astronomers, but they successfully cut off the scorpion’s claws. Then they gave him new itty bitty teeny weenie claws. They took the old claws and made Libra. Don’t tell Zeus. The Romans must have liked the scorpion though, they named one of their spear launching war machines after it.

The most famous star here is Antares which means “Rival of Mars” because Antares and Mars hate each other. Every couple of years Mars cruises by and they both try to out-red each other. It’s close. It’s hard to say which is better and redder. Most years the contest results are within the margin of error. Oh, and Antares is a big ass star.
M6_01The long curly tail of Scorpius dips down into the summer Milky Way so of course there is lots of fun deepsky to be discovered here. For instance, M6 (The Butterfly). It’s an open cluster which, if you try super hard, as hard as you can, you can almost consider it to be roughly sort of maybe butterfly-ish shaped. Don’t strain yourself.

M7_01M7 (The Ptolemy Cluster) is a naked eye open cluster near the stinger that was noticed around the year 100 by Claudius Ptolemy. He had good eyes and dark skies. It also looks like a butterfly, sort of.

There is another interesting open cluster near the very southern portion of the scorpion’s tail called NGC-6231. It’s also known as the “Northern Jewel Box.” It’s shaped like a moth.

Roman_Scorpion_01People born under the sign of Scorpius have characteristics.

Carpe Noctem.

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