Tonight: Scorpion’s Claws Grasp Moon

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 30, 2012 – 12:36 pm -

Sky-watchers  tonight (June 30) get to watch the moon within the northwest corner of the constellation Scorpius low in the southern sky.  If you superimpose the mythological figure of the arachnoid in the heavens then the Moon would actually appear to be held within the claws of the beast. The bright orange star to the Moon’s left is Antares located 600 light years from Earth. By the next night (July 1) the Moon will have skipped over to the other side of Antares.

The three brightest stars that are in a line above and below the Moon, form the celestial claws but are sometime referred to as the crown of Scorpius too. This stellar trio, all located about 500 light years from Earth are likely related to each other, along with Antares and hundred other stars-  all probably born in the same cloud of gas and dust hundreds of millions of years ago.

june30-2012


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Scorpion Stares Down Moon

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 17, 2012 – 3:21 pm -

On Thursday (Jan.19) morning the waning crescent moon will park itself just off to the upper left of the bright orange star Antares low in the southeastern sky. Representing the eye of Scorpius, the scorpion,  Antares is a super red giant star 600 light years from Earth and shines as the 16th brightest star in the entire sky. Nearly 900 times the diameter of our Sun, if Antares were placed at the center of our solar system, its outer atmosphere would almost reach out to Jupiter’s orbit- meaning Earth would be a cinder block within the belly of this stellar monster.

Antares and the moon will be separated by only 3 degrees – equal to the width of your first three fingers at an outstretched arm. Best time to see their close encounter will be about an hour before local sunrise – and make sure you have a clear line of site as close to the horizon as possible.

Look SE at predawn on Thursday to see the moon join Antares. Credit: Starry Night Software

Look SE at predawn on Thursday to see the moon join Antares. Credit: Starry Night Software

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The Purrfect Nebula

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 20, 2010 – 10:47 am -

click image to enlarge

Nebula lies just off the stinger's tip; click image to enlarge

Few objects in the sky have been as well named as the Cat’s Paw Nebula, a glowing gas cloud resembling the gigantic pawprint of a celestial cat out on an errand across the Universe. NGC 6334 lies about 5500 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Scorpius (the Scorpion) and covers an area on the sky slightly larger than the full Moon. The whole gas cloud is about 50 light-years across. The nebula appears red because its blue and green light are scattered and absorbed more efficiently by material between the nebula and Earth. The red light comes predominantly from hydrogen gas glowing under the intense glare of hot young stars. 

Best image ever of the Cats Paw Nebula; click image to enlarge

Best image ever of the Cat's Paw Nebula; click image to enlarge

British astronomer John Herschel first recorded NGC 6334 in 1837 during his stay in South Africa. Despite using one of the largest telescopes in the world at the time, Herschel seems to have only noted the brightest part of the cloud, seen here towards the lower left.This new portrait of the Cat’s Paw Nebula was created from images taken with the 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

NGC 6334 is one of the most active nurseries of massive stars in our galaxy and has been extensively studied by astronomers. The nebula conceals freshly minted brilliant blue stars — each nearly ten times the mass of our Sun and born in the last few million years. The region is also home to many baby stars that are buried deep in the dust, making them difficult to study. In total, the Cat’s Paw Nebula could contain several tens of thousands of stars.Particularly striking is the red, intricate bubble in the lower right part of the image. This is most likely either a star expelling large amount of matter at high speed as it nears the end of its life or the remnant of a star that already has exploded.

Click here to get this image for you desktop wallpaper.

- Adapted from a European Southern Observatory new release


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Tonight: Moon next to Antares

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 23, 2009 – 2:57 pm -

Tuesday night

Tuesday night

For skywatchers in the western hemisphere the waxing crescent Moon will swing by the Scorpion’s heart, Antares, early this evening.

Look for the Moon in the low southwest sky after sunset. About seven full moon disks to its upper left will be the bright orange supergiant star that is the lead member in the constellation Scorpius. While this ancient pattern of stars is well above the horizon for northern latitude observers in the late summer, by end of September its lower half is hidden below the horizon – except for 600 light year distant Antares.

For observers in most of Asia and Pacific basin, the Moon will actually occult – or eclipse – Antares in the late Wednesday afternoon.

Did you know that the portrait of this beast in the sky has no claws -like a real scorpion does? Actually when the ancient Greek’s fomed this constellation it did have claws.  But later in Roman times around the first-century AD, Julius Ceasar and his senator buddies decided that Rome needed a cosmic  tribute – so they cut off the Scorpion’s claws and made it into its own constellation representing scales of justice, we call Libra. Legends had it that the Moon was in the part of the sky occupied by Libra when Rome was founded, hence its special place in history.


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Scorpion Stings the Night

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 4, 2009 – 10:00 am -

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Late summer is the best time to catch sight of the most dramatic of mythical creatures in the night sky – the Scorpion. Known officially as Scorpius (often incorrectly referred to as Scorpio), it’s one of the few patterns of brighter stars that actually resembles the creature it’s supposed to represent.  It’s also one of the true celestial celebrities being a member of the 12 zodiacal constellations associated with horoscope signs.  According to ancient Greek legend Scorpius killed Orion in a great battle by stinging him in the heel. As a result it was placed in the sky as far away as possible from the great hunter, so as to protect him from further mishap. That’s why we find Scorpius shining brightly in the summer sky while Orion dominates the winter nights.

The main body of this cosmic arachnoid is formed by a line of glittering stars dipping down to the southern horizon with its tail curving back up the sky to form its starry stinger.  From bright suburban skies you may find it easier to recognize this association of stars forming a giant slanted letter ‘J’. Hawaiian fisherman looked at this stellar group and saw a dangling Fish Hook – another easily recognized and widely used landmark.  Be aware however that if your observing site is above  40 degree latitude, you will likely find the bottom of the tail or hook obstructed because of its proximity to the local horizon.

Bright deep-sky objects visible close to the Scorpion's tail and heart. click image to enlarge

Bright deep-sky objects visible close to the Scorpion

Crawling through the low southern skies throughout late summer nights, Scorpius can easily be tracked down by its brilliant heart, the constellation’s brightest star – orange-hued Antares. It’s name means the ‘Rival of Mars’ since it reminded ancient astronomers of the Red planet, which looks very similar in the sky. Despite Antares being located just over a whopping 600 light years from us it still ranks as the 16th brightest star in the entire sky. Astronomers classify it as a red super giant star – and for good reason. Antares’ shines 10,000 times brighter than our puny Sun and has a diameter that is truly monstrous- 800 times bigger than the Sun.

M6, Click to enlarge

M6, Click to enlarge

Continuing your tour of this cosmic creepy crawly, the surrounding sky is rich with a number of deep sky treasures you can spy with the naked eye and binoculars.  Just north of the stinger are two splashy open star clusters.
The Butterfly Cluster or M6 is a collection of  about 130 stars contained in an area of sky equal to half the full Moon’s disk. Wing-like strings of stars gives it its name-sake appearance. Astronomers believe that these are stellar youngsters no more than 100 milion years old. Look for a hazy blob of light with the naked eye or use binoculars or a small telescope at low power to show off the brighter members.
M7, Click to enlarge

M7, Click to enlarge

Meanwhile closer to the stinger lies another, even brighter, more obvious gang of stars known as M7 or Ptolemy’s Cluster. Named after ancient Roman astronomer who first mentioned this cosmic jewel in 130 AD., it is home to about 130 stars and shines brightly enough to be seen as a fuzzy patch in the sky with just the unaided eye - but is best observed with binoculars because of the wide scattering of its members.
These stars are about twice as old as those in the previous cluster and lies a respectable 1000 light years from Earth.
M4, Click to enlarge

M4, Click to enlarge

Finally rounding out our quick to of Scorpio’s highlights, use your binoculars to scan over to the lead star Antares. The Cat’s eye is seen easily with binoculars but really shows off through a telescope. It is a true metropolis of stars, easily containing 10,000 residents. Sitting at about 7000 light years away it is one of the cloest examples of a globular cluster. Because of its proximity even a small telescope can easily resolve some of its stars swarming near its core. It gets its name from the strange  distinct bar-like structure that appears to cut across its centre – making it appear like a feline eye looking back at you in the eyepiece.


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Moon Meets with Mars’ Rival Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 3, 2009 – 2:00 pm -

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Face the southern horizon tonight after dusk and you can see the waxing gibbous Moon pointing the way to a brilliant orange coloured star known as Antares.  If you have never seen this star before, this is a nice opportunity to track it down thanks to the Moon – Antares is a beauty as it sparkles near the horizon. It’s name means the ‘Rival of Mars’ since it reminded ancient astronomers of the Red planet, which looks very similar in the sky.

Despite Antares being located just over a whopping 600 light years from us it still ranks as the 16th brightest star in the entire sky. Astronomers classify it as a red super giant star – and for good reason. Antares’ shines 10,000 times brighter than our puny Sun and has a diameter that is truly monsterous- 800 times bigger than the Sun. Anteres is the lead star in the constellation Scorpius, which is a landmark for summer skywatchers. Over the course of the next couple of months,  the Scorpion will rise a bit higher above the southern horizon in the evenings, making it an easier target to observe.


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