No. 13 in the Zodiac   Leave a comment

ophiuchus

The constellation Ophiuchus (The Serpent Holder), as shown on http://www.frostydew.org

Most people take for granted that there’s a safe, stable number of zodiac constellations: 12.  I bet you can even name them.  But here’s one that you might not know: Ophiuchus.

Who?

You heard me: Ophiuchus.

My friend, I’ve been a Ophiuchus fan for years.  He’s the most underrated member of the ecliptic going.  His legs dangle ever so tenuously into the zodiac, just above Scorpius.  He’s actually trying to step on it – wouldn’t you?  Planets have been know to trod on his toes or through his legs.

So why isn’t he part of the party?  There’s all sorts of reasons for that.  Some say it’s traditional to have 12 signs of the zodiac, but the more practical application is that the area around the constellations has been allotted and Ophiuchus’ official territory doesn’t count for much.  In fact, I could write a million blogs just about that, but why bother?  What makes him most interesting is he’s also thought to be the only celestial representation of a historical person.

According to H.A. Rey, noted amateur astronomer and writer of “Curious George” books, he states:

“To speak of the Serpent Holder [Ophiuchus] as a doctor is not a mere whim.  The figure is thought to represent Asklepios, Greek god of medicine who can be traced back to the Egyptian Imhotep (about 2900 BC), eminent physician and architect and first man of science in recorded history.  The Serpent Holder thus becomes, indirectly, the only constellation representing a historical person.”

In Greek mythology, Asklepios was a doctor who knew the secret of death.  Since his patients continued to live healthy, productive lives, Hades, the god of the underworld, grew uneasy.  No deaths, no need for an underworld.  Dr. Asklepios’ services were called into order when Orion was killed by a scorpion.  As Dr. A tried to revive him, he found himself on the business end of a lighting bolt, shot by none other than Zeus himself.  Hades had called on his brother Z to do the dirty work, in order to continue his employment.  But the good Dr. A was recognized as a worthy sort and so found a home for eternity among the stars, along with Orion’s killer scorpion.    They reside on opposite sides of the night sky, so when you see one, you cannot see the other.  Keeps everyone out of trouble this way.

Ophiuchus isn’t just a zodiacal oddity.  He has planets of his own.  15, to be exact.  So why bother with waiting for any of our solar system’s planet to cross his territory when he doesn’t have to?  One planet in particular, GJ 1214, is only 42 light years away and is presently being observed for more data.

If you’d like to see Ophiuchus for yourself, his calling hours are generally late May, July and August, in the southern portion of the sky, just above Scorpio.  He’s a little dim, but on a clear night you can pick him out.

And who knows?  One of these nights, you might find a planet wandering nearby.

 

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