July 2023
The Backyard Astronomer
Adam England

Scorpions and Rabbits

One of my personal favorite constellations is Scorpius. It’s very easy to identify in the summer months when it rises in the southeast and sways above the Bradshaw Mountains like the traditional scorpion promenade à deux pairing dance.

The red supergiant Antares defines the head of the scorpion and is often confused with Mars for its brightness and somewhat ochre coloration. Just one degree westward of Antares is the globular cluster Messier 4 (M4), the first cluster to have individual stars resolved by astronomers in the mid-1700s. Today backyard astronomers can easily locate this cluster with a decent pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

While the head of the scorpion is dominated by Antares and the five stars making up its head and claws, its tail rises above the mountaintops a little later in the evening, defined by the large hook at its tip. The Hawaiian culture saw these stars as the fishhook of the demigod Maui, calling it Ka Makau Nui o Māui, ‘The Big Fishhook of Maui.’

Here in northern Arizona we certainly have scorpions and will use a fishhook for landing a trout, but the Dineh culture sees something different in these stars. The last four stars in the tail are strikingly similar to tracks left by a running rabbit, so it’s known as Gah Haat’e’ii (‘rabbit tracks’). Each year the return of the rabbit tracks signify to Navajo hunters that hunting season is over.

The time this constellation is visible in the night sky is when deer, elk, and other large game have given birth, and their newborns are still reliant on their mothers for sustenance. When Rabbit Tracks moves to the east and is no longer upright in the sky, the young are then old enough to care for themselves, and hunting season resumes.

Due to its placement along the main swath of the Milky Way, Scorpius contains many other deep-sky objects, including double stars, nebulae and both open and globular clusters. Enjoy the beautiful summer nights of northern Arizona and get your telescope out to look at this amazing patch of sky!

If you would like to learn more about the sky, telescopes, or socialize with other amateur astronomers, visit us at prescottastronomyclub.org or Facebook @PrescottAstronomyClub to find the next star party, Star Talk, or event.

Adam England is the owner of Manzanita Financial and moonlights as an amateur astronomer, writer, and interplanetary conquest consultant. Follow his rants and exploits on Twitter @AZSalesman or at Facebook.com/insuredbyadam.