Tonight, look for the faint constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. It appears in the south to southwest sky on August and September evenings, above the bright ruddy star Antares, the brightest in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion.
We show the southernmost portion of Ophiuchus on our feature sky chart above, and the constellation in full on the sky chart below. This year, in 2018, the sun travels in front of the zodiacal constellation Scorpius from November 23 to November 30, and in front of the zodiacal constellation Ophiuchus from November 30 to December 18.
The zodiac – or ‘pathway of animals’ – represents the rather narrow band of of sky astride the ecliptic, which is the plane of Earth’s orbit projected onto the sphere of stars. The signs of the zodiac are familiar to all who read online astrology advice. There are 12 familiar signs of the zodiac: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer and so on. Then there are the 13 constellations of the zodiac, which includes Ophiuchus. The sun moves in front of Ophiuchus from about November 30 to December 18 each year.
The official boundary lines for all 88 constellations were drawn up by the International Astronomical Union in the 1930s. The photo below of the constellation Ophiuchus labels Ophiuchus’ brightest star, Rasalhague, and Scorpius’ brightest star, Antares. Rasalhague marks the head of Ophiuchus but is nowhere as bright as Antares, the star that depicts the Scorpion’s beating heart.
On sky maps, Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer is depicted as holding Serpens the Serpent, which is considered a separate constellation. According to ancient Greek star lore, Ophiuchus is Asclepius, the physician who concocted a healing potion from the Serpent’s venom, mixing it with the Gorgon’s blood and an unknown herb. This potion gave humans access to immortality, until the god of the underworld appealed to Zeus to reconsider the ramifications of the death of death.
Even today, the Staff of Asclepius – symbol of the World Heath Organization and other medical organizations – pays tribute to the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer.