Ophiuchus - Constellation of the Month
Image Adapted by Celestial Events SA from Stellarium
Ophiuchus is considered the forgotten sign of the zodiac on account of the sun spending more than twice as long within it than in the neighbouring Scorpius for example. Despite this, it has never been considered a zodiac sign in history.
However, more recently, enough publicity has been created that many astrologers and magazines now include it in their profiles. This may be due to Earth’s wobble (known as Precession) over the past 5000 years since the zodiac’s conception, that means that the Sun’s path across the sky today, does not match that which was observed by early astronomers.
In mythology, Ophiuchus represents Aesclepius, a medicine man trained at the hands of the famous centaur, Chiron. One day, the son of King Minos fell into a pot of honey and drowned. While Aesclepius was trying to revive the boy, a serpent appeared and Aesclepius killed it with his staff.
Moments later, another snake arrived carrying some herbs in its mouth that it laid on the back of its lifeless partner. The herbs resurrected the snake and Aesclepius then used the same technique to revive the boy.
Hades however complained to Zeus that the power of resurrection was too great for mankind and would impact on his flow of dead souls for the underworld. Zeus agreed, and placed Aesclepius in the stars to honour his role.
A descendent of Aesclepius was Hippocrates. Hippocrates is the origin of the Hippocratic Oath that all modern-day doctors must conform to.
Rasalhague is the brightest member of Ophiuchus and represents the head of Aesclepius. The name comes from the Arabic meaning ‘Head of the Serpent Collector’ in relation to its aforementioned mythology.
Rasalhague lies at around 50 light years from Earth and is believed to be a double star with an orbital period of just over 8 years.
DEEP SKY OBJECTS
M10 is one of 7 globular clusters to be found within Ophiuchus and is easily seen with binoculars in the middle of the ‘body’ of Aesclepius. The cluster contains around 100,000 stars all situated about 15,000 light years away. While looking for M10, keep an eye out for another globular cluster, M12, only a few degrees away.
Messier 16 - The Eagle Nebula
M16 is officially found in Serpens Cauda, the tail of the serpent that is wrapped around Ophiuchus, but is more than worthy of a mention. The area of nebulosity is another star forming region about 7000 light years from Earth but is easily visible in binoculars under clear skies.
Image Credit - Wikipedia
Its most famous feature is the Pillars of Creation: 3 massive steeples of dust and gas that act as stellar incubators for the young stars within. In terms of size, the largest of the pillars is over 4 light years from top to bottom!
Image Credit - NASA