Tonight, look for the faint constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. From Northern Hemisphere latitudes, you’ll find him in the south to southwest on August and September evenings. From the Southern Hemisphere, he is closer to overhead. The bright red star Antares – brightest light in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion – is nearby. Poor Ophiuchus. Nobody ever claims him as a birth sign, despite the fact that the ecliptic runs across him, too, just as it does the 12 better-known constellations of the zodiac.
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 include Ophiuchus. The sun moves in front of Ophiuchus from about November 30 to December 18 each year.
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 Health Organization and other medical organizations – pays tribute to the constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer.
How can you find this constellation? First of all, you need a dark sky. With the moon waning now, you’ll have one in the evenings ahead. We show the southernmost portion of Ophiuchus on the chart at top, and the constellation in full on the sky chart below. To see Ophiuchus, stand outside under your light-free sky until your eyes are fully adjusted to the dark. Ophiuchus is faint. But you’ll easily recognize the constellation Scorpius nearby. From our Northern Hemisphere locations, Ophiuchus looming up above Scorpius. He’s a mighty figure that your eyes will pick out, if you’re looking for him.
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.
Bottom line: Poor Ophiuchus. Astrologers don’t typically mention this constellation, although the sun moves in front of its stars from about November 30 to December 18, every year. Find Ophiuchus in the sky tonight!