Warm Nights Coax Out Scorpius The Scorpion

These maps show sky facing southeast shortly after nightfall around 10:30 p.m. Scorpius' brightest star, Antares, translates as 'anti-Ares' or 'rival of Mars' because of similarity in color and brightness. M4 is a globular cluster easily found in a typical pair of 10x50 or 7x50 binoculars. Look for a fuzzy patch. Created with Stellarium

If I had to pick one constellation indelibly associated with the month of May it would be Scorpius the Scorpion. We could have chosen Virgo or Bootes, which stand high in the south and call for our attention with both eye and telescope. But there’s something about Scorpius crawling up from the southeast with its twinkly red star Antares (An-TAIR-eez) that stirs me almost as much as the return of spring flowers.


You'll need to stay up until 1:30 a.m. to see the full outline of the scorpion in May. The bottom of the tail is cut off by the southern horizon from my location in Duluth, Minn., except for the tip, marked by the star Shaula, an Arabic word for 'stinger'.

You wouldn’t think a scorpion would have that effect on the psyche, but it does on me. While you may not necessarily pay attention to the mythology behind them, constellations will always be associated with happenings here on Earth. Each has its own season of visibility; for northern hemisphere viewers, Scorpius’ appearance means we’ve transitioned from a wintry world into a green one. Antares’ ruddy light hints at the sun’s warming rays.

Seeing the head of the Scorpius in late May also reminds us that the summer Milky Way isn’t far behind. There’s no sight more magnificent than that waterfall of starlight rising up from the northeast and cascading its way through the zenith before crashing into a foaming frenzy near the southern horizon. We’ll visit again with Scorpius and  his minions in the coming weeks.

The International Space Station with the docked space shuttle Endeavour is seen from the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA TV

We’re so used to seeing our photos immediately after they’re taken – just press the replay button and BINGO we got ’em. That makes it hard to accept the delay in seeing the historic pictures of the space shuttle Endeavour docked with the International Space Station taken Monday by the departing astronaut crew. Yes, Monday, literally an eon ago in digital years. The cards containing the images were left in the Soyuz capsule after the astronauts landed. Today (Thursday) they’ll be shipped to Moscow and processed as per standard procedures. NASA should get the images sometime next week. In the meantime, this low-res frame grab from NASA-TV taken from Soyuz  hints at what’s to come.

The OSIRIS-REx mission will arrive at asteroid 1999 RQ36 in 2020, study and photograph it, then reach out to gather a sample that will later be returned to Earth.

In other space news, NASA announced it will launch the OSIRIS-REx (Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer) probe to near-Earth asteroid 1999 RQ36 in 2016. When it arrives at the asteroid 4 years later, the craft will extend a robotic arm to grab a sample of rock and dust from its surface, place the contents in a small capsule and launch the capsule back to Earth. The approximately two ounces of RQ 36 ‘dirt’ arrives back home for study in 2023. This will be the first U.S. mission to return an asteroid sample. Scientists hope to learn more about the composition of asteroids, which are composed of the first solid materials formed in the early solar system. Read more about the mission HERE.

2 Responses

  1. la vie, c'est dur

    Bob, I know well the experience of seeing Scorpius/Antares appearing above the southeastern horizon in late spring. Growing up in western Mn it was certainly a welcome sight after the long, miserable winters typical of that area. One regret that I have, however, is not ever having had the opportunity to be far enough south at the right time and right place to see Scorpius well above the horizon. Here we just see it crawling along the southern horizon. Tom (my real name: the nom de plume has significance for some other sites that I visit but not for yours).

Comments are closed.