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Scorpio (aka Scorpius) has fascinated stargazers for eons, mainly because it’s one of the brightest constellations in the night sky. That brightness is thanks to the many luminous stars Scorpio claims as its own. Although it’s the 8th sign of the Zodiac, we’re not going to look at the astrological ramifications of Scorpio today.
Instead, we’ve collected 23 interesting facts and myths about the constellation below to intrigue you! We start with 18 Scorpio constellation facts, then cover 5 fascinating myths. We’ll cap it all off with a FAQ section about Scorpio with even more exciting info.
One of the world’s earliest astronomers was a man named Ptolemy, a Roman citizen who lived in the 2nd century between 90 A.D and 1868 A.D. (give or take a few years). Ptolemy was the man who cataloged the original constellations, many of which we still use today. Scorpio was one of Ptolemy’s original constellations and is one of 88 recognized by the IAU (International Astronomical Union).
Did you know that the constellations are not all the same size? It’s true, and Scorpio is the 33rd largest of the 88 recognized by the IAU. The constellation takes up approximately 1.2% of the night sky, which equates to just under 497.000 degrees. (496.783 degrees, to be exact). In other words, 32 constellations are bigger than Scorpio, and 55 are smaller.
Although Scorpio is one of the most prominent constellations in the night sky, it used to be even bigger. However, when the Romans devised the 12 Astrological signs, they took Scorpio’s claws and gave them to Libra so that she could balance her scales. Although the stars in the sky are still the same, the constellation remains “de-clawed” to this day.
There are 14 main stars that make up the Scorpio constellation. The brightest of them, Antares, is known as the “heart” of the constellation. The name “Antares” in Greek means “rival of Mars” and was given to the star because of its bright red color, similar to the bright, red planet it’s named after.
Even more interesting is that when Mars is to the north of Antares along its ecliptic path, the planet and star appear to be competing for the “brightest red star” prize. Antares is also known as Alpha Scorpii or the “scorpion leader.”
Earlier, we discussed how Antares, Scorpio’s “heart,” is the brightest of its stars. The reason is that Antares is a red supergiant, an aging and massive star that has unfortunately used up its hydrogen supply. Therefore, it starts fusing helium instead, which causes it to become cooler and turn reddish. Red supergiants are about eight to 40 times larger than our sun but significantly cooler. While our sun is about 5,778 Kelvin, a red supergiant is about 2,500 to 4,500 Kelvin.
Many people assume that the Greeks discovered all the constellations. The fact is, Scorpio is one of the oldest constellations, at least as far as humans are concerned. About 5000 years ago, the ancient Sumerians were already looking up and naming the constellations. One of them was GIR-TAB, which, in Sumerian, meant “the scorpion.” It was only about 2000 years ago that the Greeks and Romans were naming the Zodiac’s constellations and signs.
Inside of the Scorpio constellation is Messier 6, so named by Charles Messier in 1764. Messier 6 is also known as the Butterfly Cluster because, as you might have guessed already, it has a shape similar to a butterfly.
The cluster was discovered in 1654 by Giovanni Batista Hodierna, the famous Italian astronomer. The Butterfly Cluster lies approximately 1,600 light-years (about 9400 trillion miles) away from our sun.
The Latin name for this constellation is Scorpius, which, when translated, means “creature with a burning sting.” In other cultures, however, the same constellation has different names.
For example, Hawaiians know the constellation as Maui’s Fishhook; Maui was a demigod. The entire Scorpio constellation in Chinese mythology is part of what they refer to as the Azure Dragon. In Indonesia, they call this collection of stars Kalapa Doyong, which means “leaning coconut tree.”
A planet in Scorpio’s constellation is one of the oldest known to man. Planet PSR B1620-26 is also known by the name Methuselah (the oldest person in the Hebrew bible) and is estimated to be about 12.7 billion years old). Methuselah was said to have lived to be 969 years old, which is pretty ancient in human terms. Methuselah is also a circumbinary planet, which means it orbits two stars instead of just one.
Meteor showers on Earth occur when a comet passes nearby, and chunks fall off and rain down on our planet. The Scorpio constellation has two such meteorological events. Their names are Alpha Scorpiids and Omega Scorpiids, respectively. The former occurs every May 15th and the latter every May 31st and can be seen from Earth. However, they aren’t easy to spot because they are small showers.
The best place to see Scorpio from Earth is in the Northern Hemisphere, requiring you to look southward. It’s easiest to see from July through September, and the best time of day to see it is 11:00 PM. Although it makes the constellation more challenging to spot, the sun is in Scorpio from October through November. Another fun fact is that Scorpio is upside-down when looking at it from below the Earth’s equator!
Although there are thousands, if not millions, of stars in the Scorpio constellation, 18 bright stars make up its form or shape. Of those 18 stars, 13 have planets in orbit around them, and the other five do not. Some of Scorpio’s stars are visible to the naked eye, but not all of them. Some need to be viewed with telescopes and other imaging devices. The 18 stars, in alphabetical order and approved by the IAU, include Acrab, Alniyat, Antares, Dìwö, Dschubba, Fang, Fuyue, Iklil, Jabbah, Larawag, Lesath, Paikauhale, Pipirima, Rapeto, Sargas, Sharjah, Shaula, and Xamidimura.
We talked earlier about Antares (Alpha Scorpii) and how it’s the brightest star in the Scorpio constellation. There are 25 other stars in Scorpio that are named, all following the Greek alphabet. They start with Alpha, which is the brightest, and use most of the other Greek letters, including Beta, Delta, Upsilon, etc.
In the early 1700s, a French astronomer named Charles Messier was interested in knowing about comets (he found 13 of them)! As he searched, Messier would label anything that wasn’t a comet as “not comets” and created a list of them that came to be known as “Messier Objects.”
A Messier Object is a celestial body that, for one reason or another, is remarkable. Messier ended up cataloging 40 objects. Today, however, there are 110 of them, as other astronomers have added to his list. The four Messier Objects in Scorpio’s constellation include Messier 4, Messier 6 (aka the Butterfly Cluster), Messier 7 (aka the Ptolemy Cluster), and Messier 80.
Scorpio is composed of many stars and other fascinating celestial objects. One of them is the Cat’s Paw Nebula, discovered by John Herschel in 1837. The Cat’s Paw Nebula is a massive region of space with a vast number of stars, many of whom are “young” stars.
For that reason, many astronomers refer to it as a “star nursery.” The entire nebula is about 50 light years from one side to the other and, as you might imagine, looks like a cat’s paw print in space.
While we won’t delve into astrology today, it is notable that Scorpio is one of the 12 astrological signs of the Zodiac. Along with the 11 others, Scorpio sits on the ecliptic of our sun. That’s the path the sun takes through the shy during the 12 months of Earth’s year, making them visible to us from the ground. Besides Scorpio, the other 11 constellations of the Zodiac include Aries, Aquarius, Cancer, Capricornus, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Pisces, Sagittarius, Taurus, and Virgo.
Scorpio has several Nebulae, and one of the most interesting is the War and Peace Nebula (NGC 6357), also called the Lobster Nebula. The War and Peace Nebula is one of the most prominent in the Milky Way and contains many young and expanding stars called protostars. This amazing nebula is about 5,900 light years from the sun. It’s called the war and Peace Nebula because its western half looks like a human skull while the eastern half looks like a dove, the symbol of peace.
Novas are stars that occasionally increase significantly in brightness and then die back down. In Scorpio, there’s one nova, U Scorpii, which normally has a brightness magnitude of 18. However, every few decades, it brightens to a magnitude of 8. These amazing increases in brightness have been observed 8 times since the late 1800s, including 1863, 1906, 1936, 1979, 1987, 1999, 2010, and 2020.
In ancient Egypt, they tell the tale of Horus, the god of the sky, who had a falcon’s head. The tale goes that a scorpion attacked Horus while he slept. Angered by this, Thoth, the god of magic, empowers Isis, Horus’ mother, to bring him back to life. Many believe this fable was the basis for the Greek fable of Scorpius and Orion and why both were placed in the night sky.
As we know, the Greeks were tellers of tall tales and loved telling stories about all their gods. While similar, one story was that Artemis had a crush on Orion, but her brother, Apollo (the god of the sun), wasn’t happy about it. Neither was Gaia (the earth goddess) because Orion boasted about killing Earth’s animals. So, Gaia created the scorpion and, with Apollo’s blessing, sent it to kill Orion. To save him, Artemis tried to shoot the scorpion but shot and killed Orion instead.
Although one Greek myth holds that Artemis sent a scorpion to prevent Orion from killing all the animals on Earth, there is another NSFW version. In this one, the Greeks tell the story of how Orion tried to ravish Artemis. However, she wasn’t having any of it and sent the giant scorpion to kill Orion for his philandering ways.
According to one Greek myth, Orion, the “giant hunter,” had warned he would kill all the animals on Earth. He boasted that there was no animal he couldn’t kill. To stop him, Artemis, the goddess hunter, sent a giant scorpion to kill Orion before he could carry out his nefarious plan. After the scorpion was victorious, Zeus, the ruler of the Greek gods, gave the scorpion a special place in the heavens. Orion is also up there, but the two can only be seen at different times of the year.
If you know your constellations, you know that Scorpio and Orion can’t be seen at the same time in the night sky. When one rises in the East, the other sets in the West, and their eons-long dance continues. The myth behind this is that, after the giant scorpion killed him, the gods had pity on Orion and placed him in the night sky along with Scorpio. But, to protect Orion, the gods placed them far apart. That way, they would never be together in the night sky.
A: Ptolemy found 48 constellations, although more have been added since then.
A: Antares is the brightest star in Scorpio, with an apparent magnitude of 0.6. It’s the 15th brightest star in the night sky.
A: 14 stars in Scorpio’s constellation have planets orbiting them.
A: There are four Messier Objects in Scorpio, including Messier 4, Messier 6 (aka the Butterfly Cluster), Messier 7 (aka the Ptolemy Cluster), and Messier 80.
A: In the Milky Way galaxy, where Earth is also located.
A: It means “creature with a burning sting” in Greek.
A: No, the constellation Scorpio consists of millions of stars at varying distances from the earth.
A: Antares is a red supergiant.
A: Yes, it does. There are three of them named Gliese 667Ce, Gliese 667Cf, and Gliese 667Cc.
A: Nope, it’s a collection of stars, planets, and other celestial objects.
A: Yes, it does. U Scorpii is a nova in Scorpio, one of only 10 recurring novas we know about.
Did you find today’s facts and myths about the constellation Scorpio fascinating? We certainly hope you did and that your curiosity about this magnificent constellation has now been sated. There are numerous interesting constellations, stars, nebulae, and galaxies, and a sky full of amazing and thought-provoking facts and fables. We wish you the best of luck when looking up at Scorpio and trying to see some of its many incredible stars!
Featured Image Credit: Michael C. Gray, Shutterstock
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Greg Iacono is a self-taught writer and former chiropractor who, ironically, retired early due to back problems. He now spends his time writing scintillating content on a wide variety of subjects. Greg is also a well-known video script writer known for his ability to take a complex subject and make it accessible for the layperson.
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