Ophiuchus – the serpent bearer

January 22, 2017


You gotta be crazy, taking on a big bruiser like him.The constellation of Ophiuchus represents a big guy who figured out how to kill snakes and then bring them back to life. He figured if it worked on snakes it should work on humans too. The gods killed him of course, because they’re gods and that’s what they do.

Here’s a bit of trivia for you. It might win you a bet someday, let’s face it, that’s what most of this information is good for. As it turns out Ophiuchus (big snake-fighter-guy) is the thirteenth sign of the zodiac, depending on where you start your count.

That’s right, there are thirteen stations of the Sun. So adorn yourself with crystals, light some smelly candles, and prepare to draft vague over-simplified interpretations of human interactions. Because THIS is why you are the way you are, the temporary, local, arbitrary star patterns. This, and also your mother hit you with a hair brush.

snakelegsThe Benevolent Order of Astronomy Brotherhood, an organization so clandestine it doesn’t actually exist, was able to keep the fact of a thirteenth zodiacal constellation a secret for thousands of years, but a couple of years ago some planetarium bozo in the mid-west let it leak out on Facebook. You know who else couldn’t keep a secret on Facebook? Hitler. Anyway, you talk about a shit storm. I got so many texts of OMG-WTF? I even got a call from a newspaper reporter. But once a story finally makes it into the paper you know everyone has already heard about it and it’s pretty much run its course.

Just when the storm had died down, and the brotherhood returned to teaching youngsters a better way to say Uranus, it happened again. That same brother posted about precession of the equinox. Holy Crapola Batman what were you thinking? Suddenly the astrologers (und andere schweinhund) demanded to know how we could be so careless as to let the Sun slip westward. It’s a travesty. It’s a disaster. What if some middle-aged singles were dating the wrong middle-aged singles, or something?


Okay, calm down. Fortunately, having studied the charts and graphs, and calculated the geometric manifestations, I have proven to within 99% confidence that the Sun will continue to ignore our arbitrary compartmentalization of star groups, and in only 24,000 more years it will have completed the circuit and returned to proper alignment. So don’t panic. We’ll tweet something when it’s getting close. By then Google will have some sort of moon-sized widget in the sky that we use to disseminate such critical info.

For star-hoppers, Ophiuchus is a large target-rich piece of sky. That’s partly because it’s over there in the direction of the hustle and bustle of downtown Milky Way. But we are also looking with lifted eyes, with respect to the urban sprawl. We are looking above and beyond, up into the lofty galaxy halo, where a consortium of globular clusters are circling the core. There are seven awesome Messier objects in Ophiuchus, and they are all globular clusters: M9, M10, M12, M14, M19, M62, M107.

While you are hopping around, check out Barnard’s Star. It’s a red dwarf near Ophiuchus’ right shoulder (his right, our left). It’s the star with the greatest proper motion of all the stars in the sky. That means it’s moving fast across the sky, changing position relative to our point of view. Because of this, it is not a white spot on my star maps. It is shown as a line, with dated tick marks.


Most stars move so slowly that the maps could be carved in stone. But the nearest nearby stars seem to creep along, some moving noticeably over a lifetime. So star maps are generally updated every fifty years. I wore out a 1950 set before updating to a 2000 set. Chances are I’ll live to see a 2050 set published but meanwhile, that’s just not often enough for Barnard. He gets a line. That’s kind of special so you might want to check him out and say “I saw him when he was way back there.”

snakeoilerThe sun is in Ophiuchus from November 30 to December 18 and while you are considering the astrological influences of these stars be sure to take into account that the ancient Chinese called this constellation “The Shopping Mall.”

Carpe Noctem

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