Serpent and Bearer

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Serpent and Bearer

Two constellations that are entwined in both mythology and the sky climb into good view in the east and southeast this month.

Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer, is one of the larger of the 88 modern-day constellations. Its brightest stars form a pattern that looks a bit like the outline of an old coffee urn. It’s flanked by the two halves of Serpens, the serpent. The snake’s head rises above the serpent bearer, with its tail below.

In mythology, Ophiuchus was associated with Asclepius, the son of the god Apollo. He became a great healer, in part because of an encounter with a snake. One day, he saw a snake resurrect another one by laying some herbs on top of it. Asclepius began using those same herbs. He not only healed the sick, but he managed to raise the dead as well.

That was bad for the business of Hades, the god of the underworld. He complained to Zeus, the king of the gods. Zeus killed Asclepius with a lightning bolt. But according to one version of the story, that set off a tiff between Zeus and Apollo. To end it, Zeus moved Asclepius into the stars — as the serpent bearer.

To find the serpent bearer and the serpent, look low in the sky as night falls for two prominent stars: Altair, which is due east, and Antares, in the southeast. Ophiuchus and Serpens spread far above these bright stars.

We’ll have more about Ophiuchus tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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