OphSaturn-by John Hlynialuk

Several years ago, a kafuffle* arose in the media about a "discovery" mentioned on a NASA website that there were thirteen zodiac signs, not 12. All of a sudden, calm Libras became agitated, high IQ Aquarians lost their ability to reason, and once happy-go-lucky Sagittarians became sullen and grumpy. Astrologers got hundreds of phone calls from their panicked clients, and in a refreshing change, astrologers gave out the correct information. So for once, clients got some value for any fees that they may have been charged.

The correct information was that Ophiuchus (pronounced "Oh-fee-you cuss), is not a 13th zodiac sign that had been ignored by astrologers but just an ordinary constellation. Thus the astrological influence of Ophiuchus (as non-existent as the other astrological signs) need not be accounted for in people's lives. The confusion was between the terms zodiac sign and constellation and Ophiuchus was the latter, not the former. Problem solved.

As a bit of background, here's what you need to know about astrology. By definition, there are exactly 12 astrological signs of the zodiac, which are not constellations, but 12 equal divisions (houses) along the ecliptic, a narrow band where you find the planets, the Sun and Moon. Astrologers use familiar names like Gemini, Leo, etc., but zodiac houses only roughly correspond to the constellations of the same name. For example, from Nov 23 to Dec 17, the Sun is within the boundaries of the official constellations Ophiuchus and its neighbour, Scorpius. Astrologers claim that in the same period (Nov 22 to Dec 23) the Sun is in the house of Sagittarius, a whole zodiac sign to the east. Astrologers also claim that where a planet, the Sun or Moon was located at the time of your birth determines your character and to some extent your lot in life. The only problem is that those character charts were drawn up over two thousand years ago and a phenomenon called "precession of the equinoxes" (please google it for more details) has shifted the whole pattern of stars one full sign/constellation to the east. If an astrologer does not compensate for this, the charts give the wrong characteristics, for ex. Virgo to a Leo or Taurus to an Aries.

The interesting thing about all of this is that while some believers in astrology noticed, most did not. What makes astrology "work" is that people have some of the characteristics in all 12 signs. Read the list of purported traits from any sign to anyone with a different sign and they will find more than enough matches. And that is enough said (too much actually) about astrology. I'd rather talk astronomy.

Ophiuchus is unique among constellations interesting because it represents one mythological figure with another wrapped around it, the only pair like this in the whole sky. The diagram here shows Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer with a serpent head on the right (Serpens Caput) and tail on the left (Serpens Cauda). Ophiuchus to the Romans was Asclepius, who discovered the secret of bringing the dead back to life when he noticed one serpent reviving another with a special herb. Asclepius used a healing wand which was a rod with a single serpent curled around it but bringing back the dead was a practice that usurped the power of the god king, Jupiter. He ended the activities of the Serpent Bearer with a bolt of lightning. Another god, Hermes (Mercury in Roman mythology), had a similar "magic wand", the Caduceus, with a pair of snakes entwined on a staff. The Caduceus, quite recently, came to be recognized as the symbol of healing but it has nothing to do with medicine. Technically, it should have been the Rod of Asclepius and a single snake.

If you want to have a look at Ophiuchus in the sky, do it now. It is still visible above the western horizon and can be picked out using the brightest light in that direction as a guide, the planet Saturn. It is a bit of an exercise to find the rest of the stars of the great Serpent Bearer, so use the diagram and keep in mind that the two constellations together cover a large part of sky. Do go out for a look soon because by the end of October, you will have to say goodbye to Saturn and the Serpent Bearer too. And this time, there will be no flash of lightning from Olympus when Ophiuchus disappears.

* Kafuffle: Noisy, non-violent confusion, perhaps involving some scuffling, arising through ignorance or incompetence


CopyRight ©2015, ©2016, ©2017 of Hub Content
is held by content creators