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Constellation Scutum named for a Polish king


Tonight for July 30, 2014

After the waxing crescent moon sets at late evening tonight, look for one of summer’s most beautiful celestial sights. Be sure you are looking in a dark country sky, far away from the the glare of city lights.

The waxing crescent moon adorns the western sky at dusk and nightfall.

The waxing crescent moon adorns the western sky at dusk and nightfall.

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In a dark sky, you’ll find a hazy pathway stretched across the sky during the late July evening hours. This band is the starlit trail of our own Milky Way galaxy. Looking southward late in the evening – toward the richest part of the Milky Way – you’ll find a very small constellation, called Scutum the Shield. It has only has four stars that make up the constellation outline. But it is noticeable in a dark sky because the Milky Way is so rich here.

Sky chart of the constellation Scutum the Shield

Image credit: Wikipedia

The Shield is not big, but it provides some very nice views in dark skies with the unaided eye or binoculars. The very noticeable Teapot of Sagittarius is below Scutum. And the bright star Vega shines high above Scutum. So you’ll always find this small constellation to the north of Sagittarius and way south of Vega.

Vega: Blue-white Harp Star

Scutum has a fascinating history. Astronomer Hevelius named it in 1683 for Jan III Sobieski. He was the Polish king that led his armies to victory in the Battle of Vienna. The constellation in charts of the era resembles the king’s coat of arms on his shield.

Scutum is one of two constellations to be named after real people. Coma Berenices was named for an Egyptian queen.

July 2014 guide to the five visible planets