Two constellations that don’t get a lot of respect are in the west and southwest early this evening, to the upper right of the “evening star.” One of them was slighted by those who created the 12 signs of the zodiac. The other was slighted by the people who established the constellation boundaries: they chopped out its middle.
Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer, is one of the largest of all the 88 constellations. More important, it lies along the ecliptic — the Sun’s path across the sky. The constellations along this path form the zodiac. But Ophiuchus isn’t included in the lineup, even though the Sun spends more time inside its borders than in Scorpius, which is next door.
Ophiuchus represents the founder of medicine. In myth, he was such a good healer that he even brought the dead back to life. That was reminiscent of the powers of a snake: It can kill, but it can also rejuvenate itself by shedding its skin. So in the sky, the physician is also known as the serpent bearer.
Appropriately enough, he’s holding on to Serpens, the celestial serpent. Its head is to the right of Ophiuchus, with the tail to the left — with the middle blocked out by Ophiuchus.
Serpens and Ophiuchus are low in the west and southwest at nightfall. Look first for the planet Venus, which shines as the brilliant evening star. Ophiuchus and Serpens stretch out to its upper right — a celestial pairing that doesn’t get a lot of respect.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013
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