When the atmosphere is crystal clear at dusk, having left behind a stretch of haze, heat and humidity, let it beckon you outdoors. The sky will appear higher than heaven, broader than ever before, and painted with huge, clearly defined pictographs. This week, in the absence of a nighttime moon's commanding presence - and its star-obscuring radiance - those distant suns attract our full attention.
The grandeur of Scorpius the Scorpion can easily escape us if not sought out in its niche low in the south-southwest. It is as large, easy to recognize, and commanding as winter's Orion the Hunter. At nightfall, the ancient constellation stands on its magnificently curled tail atop the southern skyline. The tail ends in a stinger sketched by two stars side by side: Shaula, the brighter, and Leseth. They are known as the Cat's Eyes. Above the tail, in the middle of the shape, is the bright, red star Antares, Scorpius' heart. The figure curves up to a horizontal arc that represents the scorpion's claws at the head end of the immense form. Find it in its entirety from about 9:30 until 10:30 in a dark sky area with an unobstructed view to the horizon. The scorpion lies on its side as it sets in the southwest shortly after midnight.
Whereas in wintertime Orion travels the night skies of the northern hemisphere from east to west, and may be present all night, Scorpius appears at night in summer and skims the south-southwest horizon for a few hours before setting. It is a constellation of the southern hemisphere, where it climbs high in the sky. Star lore explains why these two giants are not to be seen together: Scorpius killed Orion, and so the gods separated the two forever by placing them opposite each other in the sky.
To contact Judy Isacoff go to www.naturesturn.org