Scorpius the Scorpion, one of the few constellations that actually looks like what it's supposed to be. Up in these far northern latitudes of the U.S. we're a little handicapped because it never gets all that high up in the sky. Right now in the early evening it's at its highest, sprawled across the low southern sky. It's easy to see the three stars in a row that make up its head. From there you can follow a curved line of stars to the lower left that leads to Antares, a dark reddish star that marks the heart of Scorpius. To the lower left of Antares is the curved tail of the scorpion which can be tough to see unless you're viewing from a really low and flat southern horizon.
Scorpius is one of the oldest known constellations, no doubt because of its actual resemblance to land roving scorpions. It's one of the original six zodiac constellations running along either side of the ecliptic, the annual path that the sun takes among the stars as our Earth orbits the sun.
If you're like me and a lot of other folks around here, Scorpius reminds you of a giant fishhook that trolls our low summer skies every year. When I was a much, much younger man I remember my grandma pointing out what she saw as the big fishhook from the dock of her cabin near Garrison, Minn. Grandma and the rest of us aren't all that crazy in seeing the giant fishhook. That's how many ancient Polynesian cultures also saw it, and they saw the fishhook even better than we do because from their much more southern locale Scorpius is much higher in the sky.
As big as the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion is in our sky, it used to be a lot larger in ancient Rome and Greece. The claws of the celestial beast extended well beyond the three stars that make up the scorpion's head. In fact, if you don't have a lot of light pollution from where you're viewing there are two moderately bright stars that mark where the claws used to be on very old star charts. These two stars are a mouthful, so try to pronounce them at your own risk. They are Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali, which are Arabic names that translate to English as the northern claw and southern claw respectively. These two shiners are now the brightest stars in the faint and underwhelming constellation Libra the Scales. It was Julius Caesar that hacked off Scorpius's claws to make up the Libra the Scales, which was seen as the heavenly symbol for Roman justice.
My favorite soap opera story in the sky involving Scorpio is the Greek mythology tale about how Zeus, the king of gods of Mount Olympus, sent a giant Scorpion to kill the mighty hunter Orion to end a torrid love affair he was having with Zeus's daughter Diana, the goddess of the moon. Orion hunted by night and slept by day, and while he was on his nocturnal hunting adventures he was noticed and admired by Diana as she dutifully led the moon across the sky. She would call down to the studly hunter and they would have long distance conversations. As time went on Diana eventually joined Orion on his hunting jaunts, ignoring her lunar duties.
Zeus learned of his daughters negligence and put a contract out on Orion. He had his staff send a giant scorpion to sting and kill Orion during his daytime slumber. When the fateful day arrived and the giant scorpion approached Orion, the ever-alert hunter woke up as the beast stirred up the nearby brush in its approach. Orion shot up and valiantly fought the scorpion with all his might but eventually he was stung by the steroid enhanced scorpion and died instantly.
That night Diana discovered the body of her boyfriend and was filled with tremendous grief. She managed to compose herself and lift Orion's body to the sky and transform it into the famous constellation we see during the winter evening. As she looked back down to Earth she saw the giant scorpion not all that far from where she found Orion. She put two and two together and decided to get revenge. She dive bombed the scorpion, picked it up and flung it up into the opposite direction of the sky from where her dead boyfriend was. That's why Orion and the Scorpion are never seen in the sky at the same time. Orion prowls the winter skies and Scorpius trolls the summer heavens. Orion won't get stung again!
This year Scorpius also has the company of the bright planets Mars and Saturn.. Watch out you guys! Don't get stung!!!
Diagram of Scorpius...Click