By Adam England
The night skies of Prescott in July offer some amazing sights — at least on the nights that aren’t obstructed by seasonal monsoon storms. One of the easiest constellations to find in the summer months is Scorpius, the Scorpion. With references to the scorpion coming from ancient Babylonian and Hindu cultures, it’s one of the 48 constellations identified in second-century writings by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy. Other cultures viewed the collection of stars differently. In Java, it was seen as both a swan and a leaning coconut tree, while in Hawaii it was the fishing hook of the demigod Maui.
Greek mythology tells how Orion, great hunter that he was, boasted that he would kill every animal on Earth. The goddess Artemis offered protection to the creatures, sending a scorpion to do battle with Orion. The scorpion prevailed in the fight, and Zeus raised the pair to the heavens — the triumphant scorpion for his valiant fight, and the hunter as a visual reminder to humans not to be prideful.
Easily identifiable in the early evening by looking above the Southeastern horizon, the hooked tail and scorpion’s claws meet at the bright red star Antares, often dubbed the “rival of Mars” for its intense coloring. Other notable features in the constellation include: U Scorpii, the fastest known recurrent Nova (which could brighten to a magnitude of 8 at any time in the next few years); the optical double ω¹ Scorpii and ω² Scorpii, which can be resolved on most nights by the unaided eye or with a small scope to show their contrasting blue and yellow colors; open star clusters such as the Butterfly Cluster (M6) and Ptolemy Cluster (M7); and the globular clusters Messier 4 and Messier 80 — extremely dense groupings of stars that appear as fuzzy cotton balls when viewed through a small telescope or binoculars.
Here’s wishing you daytime rain showers and clear nighttime skies this month.
Visit Prescott Astronomy Club at PrescottAstronomyClub.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAstronomyClub.Org.
Adam England is the director-at large and in charge of public relations for the Prescott Astronomy Club.