Scutum the Shield is named for a Polish king

Star chart with narrow diamond shaped constellation above green line of ecliptic with Teapot below and Antares to the side.
Scutum over the famous Teapot pattern in the constellation Sagittarius, and near the bright red star Antares in Scorpius.

In late July and early August, watch for one of our sky’s most beautiful sights. Look in a dark sky, far from the glare of city lights, for a hazy pathway stretched across the sky. This band is the edgewise view into our own Milky Way galaxy. If you see it, you can also find a small but noteworthy constellation, called Scutum the Shield.

There are only four to five stars outlining the constellation, but Scutum is noticeable in a dark sky because the Milky Way is so rich here.

So, on an evening in late July or August, look for Scutum in the Northern Hemisphere’s southern sky. Or look overhead as seen from the Southern Hemisphere,. You’ll be looking toward the richest part of our Milky Way galaxy. In fact, when we look this way, we’re looking not far from the famous Teapot pattern in the constellation Sagittarius. The Teapot marks the direction of the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

Scutum doesn’t mark the exact center of the galaxy, but it’s pretty close!

Scutum named after Polish king

The constellation Scutum has a fascinating history. The Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius named it Scutum Sobiescianum, meaning the shield of Sobieski, in 1683. He named it for Jan III Sobieski, a Polish king who 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. Today, you still sometimes hear amateur astronomers refer to this part of the sky as Scutum Sobieski.

Scutum is one of two constellations named after real people. The other one is Coma Berenices, named for an Egyptian queen.

The Shield isn’t big, and it requires a dark sky to be seen, but – to those who find it in dark skies – it provides some very nice views with the unaided eye or binoculars. The very noticeable Teapot of Sagittarius is below Scutum. And the bright star Vega shines high above Scutum.

Sky chart of the constellation Scutum the Shield

Star chart with stars in black on white, with many yellow dots indicating deep sky objects such as galaxies.
Star chart of Scutum the Shield. Image via Wikipedia.

Nearby famous deep-sky objects

Some famous deep-sky objects reside in this part of the sky, too. One is the Wild Duck Cluster, also known as M11. It’s an open star cluster – one of the densest ones ever found – containing some 3,000 stars.

Another open cluster in this part of the sky is M26, discovered by Charles Messier in 1764.

Photo of the night sky, with the starlit band of the Milky Way, and with Scutum along the Milky Way, south of Aquila the Eagle.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Cecille Kennedy caught this image on June 27, 2021, from the central Oregon coast. It’s another way to see the constellation Scutum, this time in relationship to the constellation Aquila the Eagle, part of the famous Summer Triangle. Thank you, Cecille!

Bottom line: Look for the constellation Scutum the Shield. It’s located in a rich region of the Milky Way and requires a dark sky to be seen.

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July 30, 2021

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Deborah Byrd

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