Tonight – August 26, 2020 – the moon is passing in front of the faint zodiacal constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. The above sky chart shows only the southern part of Ophiuchus. We show this constellation in his entirety later on in this post.
From Northern Hemisphere latitudes, you’ll see the Serpent Bearer in the south to southwest on August and September evenings. From the Southern Hemisphere, Ophiuchus is closer to overhead. The bright red star Antares – brightest light in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion – is also 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. But the sun, moon and planets do regularly move within this constellation’s boundaries. The sun moves in front of Ophiuchus from about November 30 to December 18 each year.
The zodiac – or “pathway of animals” – represents a 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. But … no 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, Greek god of medicine and doctors. Asclepius is said to have concocted a healing potion from the venom of Serpens the Serpent, mixing it with a Gorgon’s blood and an unknown herb. This potion gave humans access to immortality, until the god of the underworld, Pluto, appealed to the king of the gods, 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 waxing now, you won’t have a moonless evening until the end of the first week of September 2020. 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 looms 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 him, because he’s a constellation – not a sign – of the zodiac. However, the sun moves in front of this constellation’s stars from about November 30 to December 18, every year. Find Ophiuchus’ location in the sky tonight, and then when the moon moves away from this section of sky, try to envision the Serpent Holder in a dark sky!