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Ophiuchus and Serpens

June 5, 2016

Two constellations that are entwined in both mythology and the sky climb into good view in the east and southeast this month. And they’re especially easy to find right now because a pair of bright planets is close by.

Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer, is one of the larger of the 88 constellations. Its brightest stars form a pattern that looks a bit like the outline of an old coffee pot. And it’s flanked by the two halves of Serpens, the serpent. Its 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 one snake resurrect another by laying some herbs atop it. Asclepius began using those herbs, and 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 placed Asclepius in the stars — as the serpent bearer.

To find the serpent bearer and the serpent, look toward the southeast as night falls for two bright planets: Saturn, quite low in the sky, and orange Mars to its upper right. Ophiuchus and Serpens spread out to the left of these bright worlds.

We’ll have more about Ophiuchus tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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