How to see Shaula and Lesath
The best time to see Lesath and Shaula in the evening sky is in summer and early autumn. These two stars mark the end of the Scorpion’s Tail in the constellation Scorpius. Together, they are sometimes called The Stinger, and sometimes the Cat’s Eyes.
You can find these two at the end of the Scorpion’s graceful J-shaped pattern of stars. Shaula is the brighter of the two stars and the 24th brightest star in the sky. Shaula is also the second-brightest in the constellation Scorpius, after Antares. It’s hard to think of Shaula without Lesath. These two stars are very noticeable on the sky’s dome – glittering, brighter than most other stars, and close together on the dome of night.
As seen from our mid-northern latitudes, Lesath and Shaula never climb very high into the sky. They are highest in the sky when they’re due south. Even then, from the northern U.S., the Scorpion’s Stinger stars are barely a fist-width above your horizon (hold your fist an arm length away). They are somewhat higher from the southern U.S. where the Scorpion becomes a glorious sight. And from the Southern Hemisphere, all of Scorpius arcs high overhead.
Shaula and Lesath throughout the year. Summer is traditionally the best time to see the Scorpion’s Stinger stars. In middle June, they are due south and highest up in the sky around midnight local time. By mid-July, you’ll find Lesath and Shaula are due south and highest up around 10 p.m. In mid-August, around 8 p.m. In mid-September, 6 p.m. Remember, the time will vary by up to an hour, depending on how far east or west you are in your time zone.
Although Lesath and Shaula look like a close-knit pair of stars, they’re actually far apart in space. Shaula is around 360 light-years distant, whereas Lesath is some 500 light-years away. Like all individual stars we see in our night sky, these two are members of our Milky Way galaxy.
On a dark, moonless night, you can see a glowing band of stars running from the Scorpion’s tail and upward through the Summer Triangle. The term Milky Way refers to this roadway of stars arcing across the sky from horizon to horizon on a summer evening. This is the edgewise view of our galaxy’s flat disk. The “haze” is really the combined light of millions upon millions of stars.
Earth has an equator, and the MIlky Way galaxy does, too. The galactic equator runs through Scorpius and also its neighboring constellation to the east – Sagittarius the Archer.
And now shift your perspective from our great galaxy to our own local solar system, our sun’s family in space. The ecliptic is our sun’s annual path in front of the background stars, and it also runs through Scorpius and Sagittarius. Check out the star chart in this post to see the whereabouts of the galactic equator and ecliptic, with respect to this constellation.
History, and Two Famous Nearby Star Clusters
Shaula is an Arabic name for “The Scorpion’s Stinger.” Lesath’s name is less straightforward. According to Paul Kunitach and Tim Smart, authors of A Dictionary of Modern Star Names, the name Lesath is the final result of a long and convoluted history, initially derived from a Greek word meaning “(foggy) conglomeration.”
A famous star cluster known as M7 – sometimes called Ptolemy’s cluster – might have given Lesath its name. A line drawn from Lesath through Shaula points to a “foggy conglomeration” of stars, easily visible in binoculars. M7 – shown at the bottom of the image at left – can be found two finger-widths to the east (left) of Shaula. This cluster is thought to be 800 light-years away.
Once you’ve found M7, be sure to use your binoculars to check out M6 – aka the Butterfly cluster – as well. M6 is in the image at left, too, closer to the top of the image. It fainter than M7, a glimmering cobweb of stars, lying twice as far as M7 at around 1,600 light-years away. By the way, this image was taken with a telescope and is reversed. With the eye, you’ll see M6 to the upper right of M7.
In a dark sky, you may be able to glimpse M7 and M6 as foggy patches of light with the unaided eye.