Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science
The faint constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer appears in the southwest sky on late August and September evenings, above the bright ruddy star Antares, the brightest in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Ophiuchus’ brightest star is called Rasalhague. It marks the head of Ophiuchus and is nowhere as bright as Antares, the star that depicts the Scorpion’s beating heart.
The Zodiac – or ‘pathway of animals’ – marks the plane of Earth’s orbit around the sun. The constellations of the Zodiac are familiar to all who read online astrology advice. There are 12 familiar constellations of the Zodiac: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer and so on. Ophiuchus is sometimes called the 13th or “forgotten” constellation of the Zodiac. The sun is moving in front of Ophiuchus from about November 30 to December 17 each year. Yet no one ever says they were born when the sun is in Ophiuchus.
On sky maps, Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer is depicted as holding Serpens the Serpent, which is considered a separate constellation. According to ancient Greek star lore, Ophiuchus is Asclepius, the physician who concocted a healing potion from the Serpent’s venom, mixing it with the Gorgon’s blood and an unknown herb. This potion gave humans access to immortality, until the god of the underworld appealed to Zeus to reconsider the ramifications of the death of death.
Even today, the Staff of Asclepius – symbol of the World Heath Organization and other medical organizations – pays tribute to the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer.
Written by Deborah Byrd