Jimmy Westlake's Celestial News column appears monthly in the Steamboat Today.
Find more columns by Westlake here.
Raise your hand if you’re an Ophiuchan.
Hmm … I’m not seeing many hands out there. Perhaps you are an Ophiuchan and you don’t know it. Allow me to explain.
Ophiuchus is one of our 88 official constellations, and a big one at that, covering nearly 1,000 square degrees of our summer sky. He represents the great mythological witch doctor Aesculapius, who learned from a serpent the secret of raising people from the dead. In fact, it was Aesculapius who brought the great hunter Orion back to life after he was mortally wounded by a scorpion’s sting. Hades, the ruler of the underworld, became concerned that he would no longer receive any new souls once the secret to eternal life was known, so he convinced Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, to strike Aesculapius down with a lightning bolt. To honor the great witch doctor, Zeus placed his image in the heavens, holding a serpent and standing on top of the scorpion to symbolize his power over the scorpion’s deadly sting.
You can spot the gigantic house-shaped outline of the constellation of Ophiuchus high in the southeastern sky at about 11 p.m. in early June. Look for him holding onto his pet serpent just above the fishhook-shaped pattern of Scorpius the Scorpion.
Now, most people have heard of the 12 signs of the zodiac, and almost everyone knows their astrological sun sign, the sign of the zodiac occupied by the sun on the day they were born. What most people don’t know is that the signs of the zodiac and their related constellations no longer match up in the sky. They did 2,600 years ago when astrology was first invented, but because of the wobbling of the Earth on its axis, the signs of the zodiac and the constellations of the zodiac now are off by as much as two constellations. A Libran today who thinks the sun was in the constellation of Libra when they were born is wrong. The sun actually was passing through the stars of Virgo.
To make matters worse, the sun does not just pass through the 12 familiar constellations of the zodiac, but it also spends nearly three weeks of the year passing through the stars of Ophiuchus, the 13th constellation of the zodiac. If you were born between Nov. 29 and Dec. 18, then you are really an Ophiuchan.
Now, once again, if you are an Ophiuchan, please raise your hand.
Ah … that’s more like it. Be proud you’re an Ophiuchan!
Jimmy Westlake teaches astronomy and physics at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus. Check out Westlake’s astrophotography website at www.jwestlake.com.