Cat’s Eyes glow in Scorpius’ stinger

  • By Mike Lynch / Special to The Herald
  • Friday, July 7, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

One of my favorite constellations is Scorpius because it’s one of the few constellations that actually looks like what it’s supposed to portray. The only trouble with it is that in Washington state the great scorpion never gets all that high in our sky. Stargazers in the southern half of the U.S. have a better view of Scorpius, as the celestial beast takes a much higher track in the sky.

Nonetheless, in these more northern latitudes Scorpius is still a great attraction in the summer sky. It lies within the Milky Way band, that ribbon of light that stretches across the eastern half of the sky this time of year. The Milky Way band is made of the combined light of billions of distant stars that lie in the plane of our home Milky Way Galaxy. In fact, Scorpius lies nearly in the direction of the center of our galaxy, so the Milky Way band is a little brighter there, especially if you see it far away from heavy city lights on a moonless night.

By 10:30 p.m., when it’s finally dark enough for the stars to pop out, Scorpius is nearly at its high point in the sky, but it’s a low high point. The three moderately bright stars in a vertical row that depict the head of the scorpion are only about 30 degrees above the horizon, less than a third of the way from the southern horizon to the overhead zenith. The hook of the scorpion’s tail rides only about ten degrees above the horizon and unless you have a clear treeless view of the southern horizon you might not see it.

The tail of Scorpius is worth looking for, because that’s where you can see what folklore refers to as the “Cat’s Eyes.” Two fairly bright stars, Shaula and Lesath, mark the stinger of the scorpion, but are also seen as the two piercing eyes of a great celestial cat. If you happen to get a chance to look for them tonight, the nearly full moon will act as a nice pointer. Just look about 12 degrees, or a little over one fist-width at arm’s length, to the lower right of the moon for Shaula and Lesath.

With the naked eye these two stars aren’t really all that impressive, and to be honest they’re not all that much better with a telescope. But as you have a stare-down with the Cat’s Eyes you are actually looking at a couple of really impressive stars, at least compared to the sun, our closest star, which is some 93 million miles away. Shaula, the brighter of the two cat’s eyes, is a star nearly 2 million miles wide, almost twice as big as the sun. Shaula is also twice as hot as the sun and puts out more than a thousand times more light than our home star. If Shaula were to take the place of the sun in our solar system, global warming would really get out of control. Fortunately, it’s a long ways from us, with astronomers estimating its distance at more than 275 light-years (one light year equals nearly six trillion miles). Since a light year is defined as the distance a beam of light travels in one year, the light we see from the bright left eye of the cat on these fine summer evenings left that star in the early 18th century, before the United States was even a country.

Lesath, the dimmer right eye of the cat, is even more impressive than Shaula as a star. The only reason it’s dimmer is that it’s much farther away, more than 1,500 light-years. Lesath is a behemoth star, more than 6 million miles in diameter and 15,000 times more luminous than our humble sun.

When you see the Cat’s Eyes of summer, there’s a lot more to those eyes than meets your eyes.

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and author of the new book “Washington Starwatch,” available at bookstores and on his Web site,

Talk to us

More in Life

Artist Michelle Downes prepares to work on a few canvases in her garage workspace on Thursday, July 6, 2023, at her family’s home in Stanwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Stanwood artist Michelle Downes creates layered dreamscapes in resin

Resin is one part chemistry and one part artistry. Downes combines the two to make art that captures the imagination.

The 2023 Infiniti QX80 has standard rear-wheel drive and optional four-wheel drive available on all models. (Infiniti)
2023 Infiniti QX80 is powerful and posh

A mighty V8 engine does the work while a luxurious interior provides the pleasure.

Ash was rescued along with Dexter, just before his euthanasia date. (Luisa Loi / Whidbey News-Times)
Whidbey Island woman rescues 300 German shepherds

“Can I save them all? No,” Renee Carr, of Oak Harbor said. “But I’m gonna try my hardest.”

Kotor's zigzagging town wall rewards climbers with a spectacular view. (Cameron Hewitt / Rick Steves' Europe)
Rick Steves: Just south of Dubrovnik lies unpolished Montenegro

One of Europe’s youngest nations offers dramatic scenery, locals eager to show off their unique land, and a refreshing rough-around-the-edges appeal.

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

TSR image for calendar
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

This weekend in Snohomish: The Snohomish Blues Invasion and the Snohomish Studio Tour 2023.

Made by Bruce Hutchison, the poster for “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is an homage to 1985 classic “The Goonies.” (Photo provided)
Indie film premiering on Whidbey Island

Filmed almost entirely on Whidbey Island, “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is set to premiere in Langley.

TSR image only
Does your elementary school child have ADHD?

It’s important to identify children with this condition so we can help them succeed in school.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

Most Read