At the end of the Scorpius the Scorpion’s graceful J-shaped pattern of stars, you’ll find Shaula and Lesath. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, Scorpius will be in your southern sky; in that case, Shaula is the star on the left. Shaula is also the brighter of the two stars. These two noticeable stars are sometimes referred to as the Stinger of Scorpius, and sometimes the Cat’s Eyes.
How to see Shaula and Lesath The best time to see Scorpius and its Stinger stars in the evening sky is in northern summer and early autumn. In the Southern Hemisphere, these stars are a feature of winter and spring.
We all see these two stars at the end, or Tail, of the pattern of the Scorpion in the constellation Scorpius. Shaula is the second-brightest in the constellation Scorpius, after Antares. Shaula is also the 24th brightest star in the sky. 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, close together on the dome of night, and conspicuously located in an easy-to-see constellation.
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 higher in the sky as seen 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. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, it is summer when Scorpius appears highest in our evening sky. In the Southern Hemisphere, meanwhile, it’s winter. For all of us, in middle June, Scorpius and its Stinger stars are highest up in the sky around midnight local time. By mid-July, you’ll find Lesath and Shaula 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.
Science of Shaula and Lesath. Although these two stars 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 in northern summer. 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 of the names Shaula and Lesath Shaula is an Arabic name meaning 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 a (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 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 fainter than M7. It is a glimmering cobweb of stars, lying twice as far as M7 at around 1,600 light-years away.
In a dark sky, you may be able to glimpse M7 and M6 as foggy patches of light with the unaided eye.
Bottom line: Shaula and Lesath are two fairly bright and very noticeable stars at the end or “tail” of the easy-to-see constellation Scorpius. Once you find these stars, you can use them to find two star clusters, M6 and M7.