The faint constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer appears in the southwest sky on late August and September evenings, above the bright ruddy star Antares, the brightest in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. On our feature chart at top, we show the ecliptic – the sun’s path in front of the constellations, highlighting Scorpius and just the southern tip of Ophiuchus.
The official boundary lines as displayed on the above chart were drawn up by the International Astronomical Union in the 1930s. The photo to the right 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.
The Zodiac – or ‘pathway of animals’ – marks the plane of Earth’s orbit around the sun. 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. Ophiuchus is sometimes called the 13th or “forgotten” constellation of the Zodiac. The sun moves in front of Ophiuchus from about November 30 to December 18 each year. And yet no one ever says they’re born when the sun is in Ophiuchus.
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.