The Scorpius constellation of the ‘scorpion’ represents the Zodiac month from October 23 – November 21. However, in modern times the sun passes through the Scorpius constellation approximately 1 month later. The Scorpius constellation has a number of prominent stars and a easily recognisable form. The constellation is between Libra to the west and Sagittarius to the east. Scorpius is among the most popular constellations for amateur stargazers in summer. With 7 of the 100 brightest stars and 13 of the 200 brightest stars visible from earth it is comfortably the most prominent constellation. Although it is low in the southern sky at high northern hemisphere latitudes it is prominent from locations below 30 degrees northern latitude. Because of its location it is only visible for a short part of the year for northern hemisphere viewers.
The Scorpius constellation is one of the original 48 constellations listed by the Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy, who lived under Roman rule in Alexandria in the 2nd century. These constellations formed the basis for the modern list agreed by the IAU. Constellations from the southern hemisphere, unable to be seen from the Mediterranean, represent the majority of additions to the list.
As the earth moves in its orbit around the sun, each night you are looking at a different portion of the sky. When looking at stars it is important to be aware of what is within your view. Northern hemisphere stargazers can group constellations into 3 groups; circumpolar, summer and winter constellations. The circumpolar constellations are in the north sky, appear to move around the north star and are visible throughout the year. The constellations in the south sky are only visible for part of the year and are grouped as either summer or winter constellations. Each is visible from between 4 to 10 months.
It is important to be aware of the specific time of year and hour of the night when deciding what to look for. These pages below show the constellations in each group so you can find the constellations that interest you.
CIRCUMPOLAR (year around) – Ursa Major – Cassiopeia – Ursa Minor – Draco – Cepheus
WINTER – Pegasus – Pisces – Aries – Auriga – Taurus – Orion – Canis Major – Canis Minor – Gemini – Lynx – Cancer – Leo – Winter Hexagon
SUMMER – Virgo – Libra – Scorpius – Bootes – Hercules – Lyra – Ophiuchus – Sagittarius – Aquila – Cygnus – Capricornus – Aquarius
Or use this guide to easily see which constellations are easiest to find right now:
Scorpius Quick Facts:
Neighbouring constellations: Libra (west), Sagittarius (east), Ophiuchus (north)
Brightest star: Antares, 0.95 magnitude (15th brightest star in the night sky)
Stars brighter than 3 magnitude: 13
Primary stars: 15 (prominent 3 prongs at the front end of Scorpius – 2 claws and a head, 6 stars in a line for the body, 5 stars in a curve for the tail, 1 star for the stinger)
Latitude: 20 – 45 degrees south
Northern Hemisphere Season: Summer (December – August)
Which months can you see Scorpius constellation?
Scorpius constellation can be seen from January to September but can be found high in the sky at 21:00 during the month of July:
- Early evening viewers (before 21:00) can find the constellation from June in the eastern sky until September in the western sky. Scorpius constellation will be visible overhead in August.
- Mid evening viewers (21:00-23:30) can find the constellation from May in the eastern sky until August in the western sky. Scorpius constellation will be visible overhead in July.
- Late evening viewers (after 23:30) can find the constellation from March in the eastern sky until July in the western sky. Scorpius will be visible overhead in June.
- Early morning viewers can find the constellation from January in the eastern sky to May in the western sky. Scorpius will be visible overhead in February-March.
As time passes the constellation will gradually appear earlier in the night with ranges below showing the window of opportunity in each month. Scorpius constellation sits between 20 – 45 degrees south latitude. Therefore, the further south your position the further north it will appear in the sky. At its maximum range it is possible to see Scorpius at latitudes between +45 and -90.
Best time to see Scorpius constellation:
Best visible at 21:00 in July
January: visible briefly before sunrise appearing on the south east horizon at 05:00. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 20 degrees above the south east horizon.
February: appear on the south east horizon at 03:00. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 30 degrees above the southern horizon.
March: appear on the south east horizon at 01:00, reaching its peak at 04:30, 30 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 30 degrees above the southern horizon.
April: appear on the south east horizon at 24:00, reaching its peak at 03:30, 30 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 25 degrees above the south west horizon.
May: appear on the south east horizon at 22:00, reaching its peak at 01:30, 30 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 15 degrees above the south west horizon.
June: 15 degrees above the south east horizon at sunset, reaching its peak at 23:30, 30 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until 03:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the south west horizon.
July: 30 degrees above the south horizon at sunset, reaching its peak at 21:30, 30 degrees above the southern horizon. It will continue moving west until 01:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the south west horizon.
August: 30 degrees above the south horizon at sunset. It will continue moving west until 23:00 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the south west horizon.
September: partially visible above the western horizon before sunset becoming difficult to observe from 21:00.
Trajectory: The constellation is between 20 – 45 degrees south which means that for those in low latitudes of the northern hemisphere is will pass in the southern sky. For those in higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere it will appear very low in the southern sky for limited time each night. Its peak trajectory in Wadi Rum is 30 degrees above the southern horizon from March through July.
Not the right time for Scorpius constellation? Have a look what constellations you can see tonight.
How to find Scorpius constellation?
Scorpius is very prominent constellation with a significant number of bright stars. It is nearby the bright core of the milky way which is a useful reference for finding the constellation.
Mostly Scorpius is considered easiest to find directly. The body and raised tail of the scorpion foms the shape of a fish hook. For viewers in the northern hemisphere it passes low across the southern sky. Therefore it is only present in the sky for a shorter duration of the night.
Option 1: The red star of Antares and the fork shape at the front of Scorpius
Antares a bright red star is the brightest and most prominent and is often referred to as the heart of the scorpion. This is indicative both of its location and its prominence. Nearby Antares are 3 stars that are like a fork. This group of stars is one method to identify Scorpius. These stars are furthest from the milky way and therefore easier to find in the darker region of the constellation.
Option 2: The fish hook shape of the body of Scorpius
The fish hook shape that is the outline of the scopions body with a raised tail is a common method to identify the constellation. The tail is within the path of the milky way. This hook shape shows a string of bright stars that are all among the 200 brightest.
Option 3: Sagittarius
The only neighbouring constellation that is easy to recognise and can be used to find Scorpius is Sagittarius. Sagittarius includes the teapot asterism which is well known for its close proximity to the core of the Milky Way. The spout of the teapot points towards the head of the scorpion and following the base of the teapot away from the handle points towards the tail of the scorpion.
Learn how to form the shape of Scorpius constellation
The shape of Scorpius is one of the most clear of all those in the night sky. It is both in a shape that is as one would expect and also is formed by a series of bright stars. Antares the brightest star referred to as the heart of the scorpion is considered the starting point to recognising the shape.
From Antares the front of the scorpion is formed by 3 stars to the west. They are fanned out in a fork like shape.
- The northern star represents the left claw of the scorpion
- The southern star represents the right claw of the scorpion
- Although it is not reflective of the true shape of scorpions as they do not have pertruding heads. The middle star is said to be the head of the scorpion
- Antares form the heart of the scorpion and marks the front end of the body
- The official constellation identifies an additional star near to Antares in the direction of the head that acts as the starting point for the claws
The body and the tail of the scorpion are formed by a series of bright stars in the shape of a fish hook.
There are 9 other stars that form the fish hook shape but to recognise the constellation it is not important to find these individually. They represent the body shape of a scorpion with a raised tail.
An additional star representing the stinger is also often identified and is near to the end of the tail moving in a direction away from the head and body.
Scorpius constellation in the Ancient World
Scorpius is connected to the myth of Orion. Orion was the greatest hunter and claimed he would hunt every animal on earth. The giant scorpion was thus sent to kill Orion and protect the animals of earth. Scorpius is present throughout the summer months and Orion through the winter months. It is said that Orion hunts through the winter months and then goes into hiding through summer when the Scorpion is present in the nights sky.
Main stars in Scorpius constellation
Antares (+0.95m, 550ly, 200m suns, #15)
Antares is from Greek meaning ‘against Ares’ which was the ancient Greek name for the planet Mars after their god of war. It is the 15th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +0.95. The distance from earth is 550 light years. It is a double star system with the primary star more than 200 million times the size of the sun. The star is particularly well known because of its red appearance. This is also the reason for it name when the ancient Greeks recognised it having a similar red colouration to Mars. Therefore naming it as a rival or competitor to the planet. Antares marks the front of the scorpion’s body and is referred to as the heart.
Shaula (+1.62m, 570ly, triple star, #24)
Shaula is from Arabic meaning ‘raised tail’. It is the 24th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +1.62. The distance from earth is 570 light years. It is a triple star system with the primary star around 680 times the size of the sun. Shaula marks the tip of the scorpion’s tail.
Sargas (+1.86m, 300ly, double star, #39)
Sargas is of Sumerian origin, however the meaning is not known. Later Persian uses the same word with the meaning ‘arrowhead’, however the term was used in reference to allocated water irrigation shares through observations of star movements. It is the 39th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +1.86. The distance from earth is 300 light years. It is a double star system with the primary star over 17,500 times the size of the sun. Sargas marks the midpoint of the scorpion’s tail.
Dschubba (+2.29m, 470ly, double star, #76)
Dschubba is from Arabic word jebhat meaning ‘forehead’. It is the 76th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.29. The distance from earth is 470 light years. It is a double star system with the primary star around 300 times the size of the sun. Dschubba marks the head of the scorpion.
Larawag (+2.29m, 64ly, 2k suns, #77)
Larawag is from the Wardaman Aboriginal Australian tribe meaning ‘clear sighting’. It is the 77th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.29. The distance from earth is 64 light years. It is around 2000 times the size of the sun. Larawag marks the middle of the scorpion’s body.
Girtab (+2.39m, 480ly, double star,#83)
Girtab is from Sumerian meaning ‘scorpion’ and is identified in ancient Babylonian records. It is the 83rd brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.39. The distance from earth is 480 light years. It is a binary star with each star around 200 times the size of the sun. Girtab marks the second last star in the scorpions tail.
Acrab (+2.46m, 400ly, 6 star system, #97)
Acrab is from Arabic meaning ‘scorpion’. It is the 97th brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +2.46. The distance from earth is 400 light years. Although it appears as a single source of light, it is a six star system. With amateur equipment it can be observed as a binary but each of those light sources are made by 3 stars. Acrab marks the left claw of the scorpion.
Deep Sky Objects
Butterfly Cluster – A star cluster of over 100 stars in the shape of butterfly.
Ptolemy Cluster – A star cluster known since ancient times and first recorded by Ptolemy.
Wadi Rum is one of the best locations in the world to see the full beauty of the stars. Combining high altitudes, clear skies and no light pollution. You may be surprised how many stars are visible to the naked eye. Come with us and spend a night under the stars.