The Hand

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The Hand

Most people keep their hands as far from snakes as possible. But handling a snake was the job for the mythological serpent bearer. He’s represented in the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus, which is in the east and southeast at nightfall. The head of the snake is above Ophiuchus, with its tail below.

In one story, the constellation represented a serpent god. In another, it was a god wrestling with a snake. And in still another, it was an ancient healer who learned the secret of life by watching snakes.

His left hand — the one holding the snake’s head — is represented by two stars: Yed Prior, which leads the way across the sky, and Yed Posterior.

In our sky, the stars are separated by less than the width of your finger held at arm’s length. But they’re not related. One is a little more than a hundred light-years away, while the other is about 160 light-years.

Both stars are more massive than the Sun. So even though they’re much younger than the Sun, they’ve already moved past the prime of life. They’ve burned through the hydrogen fuel in their cores. That’s caused their outer layers to expand to giant proportions. So they’re many times bigger and brighter than the Sun.

Yed Prior and Yed Posterior are about a quarter of the way up the east-southeastern sky at nightfall, with Yed Prior slightly higher. Under even moderately dark skies, they’re easy to see — outlining the hand of the serpent bearer.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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