Celestial News: Are you an Ophiuchan?
If you are an Ophiuchan, please raise your hand. Hmm … I’m not seeing many hands out there. Perhaps you are an Ophiuchan and don’t know it. Please allow me to explain.
Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, is one of our 88 official constellations and a big one, at that, covering nearly 1,000 square degrees of our summer sky. He represents the great mythological witch doctor Aesculapius, who learned from a serpent the secret of raising people from the dead.
In fact, it was Aesculapius who brought the great hunter, Orion, back to life after he was mortally wounded by a scorpion’s sting. Hades, the ruler of the underworld, became concerned that he would no longer receive any new souls, once the secret to eternal life was known, so he convinced Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, to strike Aesculapius down with a lightening bolt. To honor the great witch doctor, Zeus placed his image in the heavens, holding a serpent and standing on top of the scorpion to symbolize his power over the scorpion’s deadly sting.
You can spot the gigantic, house-shaped outline of the constellation of Ophiuchus high in the southeastern sky starting around 10 p.m. in late June. Look for him holding onto his pet serpent, just above the fishhook-shaped pattern of Scorpius the Scorpion.
Most people have heard of the 12 signs of the zodiac, and almost everyone knows his or her astrological sun sign, the sign of the zodiac occupied by the sun on the day they were born.
What most people don’t know is that the signs of the zodiac and their related constellations no longer match up in the sky. They did, 2,600 years ago, when astrology was first invented, but due to the wobbling of the Earth on its axis, the astrological signs of the zodiac and the astronomical constellations of the zodiac are no longer in synch.
A Libran today who thinks the sun was in the constellation of Libra when they were born is wrong. The Sun was actually passing through the stars of Virgo.
To make matters worse, the sun does not only pass through the 12 familiar constellations of the zodiac; it also spends nearly three weeks of the year passing through the stars of Ophiuchus, the unofficial 13th constellation of the zodiac.
If you were born between Nov. 29 and Dec. 18, then you are really an Ophiuchan.
The ringed-planet Saturn is moving across the southernmost section of Ophiuchus this summer. You can spot it about one fist-width above the sparkling red giant star, Antares, marking the heart of Scorpius, the Scorpion.
Now, let’s try it again. If you are an Ophiuchan, please raise your hand. Ahhh … that’s more like it. Be proud you’re an Ophiuchan.
Professor Jimmy Westlake teaches astronomy and physics at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus. His “Celestial News” column appears weekly in Steamboat Today. Check out Westlake’s astrophotography website at jwestlake.com.
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