|Winter: Orion Canis Major Canis Minor Monoceros Lepus Eridanus Taurus Auriga Camelopardalis Lynx Gemini Cancer|
|Spring: Hydra Sextans Crater Corvus Leo Leo Minor Ursa Major Ursa Minor Canes Venatici Coma Berenices Virgo Bootes|
|Summer: Draco Corona Borealis Hercules Ophiuchus Serpens Libra Scorpius Sagittarius Scutum Aquila Sagitta Vulpecula Lyra Cygnus|
|Autumn: Andromeda Perseus Pegasus Cassiopeia Cephus Cetus Lacerta Delphinus Equuleus Capricornus Aquarius Pisces Aries|
|Southern Skies: Centaurus Crux Lupus Corona Australis Piscis Australis Sculptor Tucana Fornax Dorado Columba Puppis Carina Vela|
To the Greeks he was Asclepius, the son of Apollo, and the god of medicine. He was raised by the wise and benevolent centaur (half man, half horse) Chiron, depicted by the constellation Centaurus. Chiron taught Asclepius the art of healing. He became so skilled in medicine, King Minos of Crete called upon him to try to help his young son Glaucus, who had fallen into a large jar of honey and appeared to have drowned.
By the time Asclepius arrived, the boy was dead. But as he stood over the body, he noticed a snake crawling towards him, and he killed it with his staff. Then another snake arrived, carrying a herb in its mouth, which it laid on the body of the dead snake. Miraculously, the dead snake came back to life, and when Asclepius applied some of the herb to the body of Glaucas, he came back to life as well.
Hades (Pluto), god of the underworld, felt he'd been robbed of a soul, and complained to his brother Zeus (Jupiter), king of the gods, and Zeus appeased his brother by killing Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Apollo, of course, was upset that his son had been killed, so Zeus mollified Apollo by placing the image of Asclepius amongst the stars. The magical snake who had started all the trouble was placed in his hands, and Asclepius became Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer.
And there is even more to the story. Since the snake had shown Asclepius how to raise the dead - the ultimate form of healing - it became a powerful symbol of healing which survives to this day. Ancient statues of Asclepius show him holding a staff with a snake entwined around it.
The staff of Asclepius, complete with snake, is now the international symbol of the medical profession, and has been incorporated into the logos of many major health organizations, including the World Health Organization.
In modern times, the staff of Asclepius has been confused with the caduceus, or wand of Hermes (Mercury), which is a short winged rod with a pair of vipers circling it, as shown below. The caduceus was the symbol of Hermes, the messenger of the gods, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, gamblers, liars and thieves. The symbolism of the caduceus renders it particularly inappropriate as a medical logo. Despite this fact, grossly misinformed or ignorant U. S. military officials adopted the caduceus as the official logo of the medical corps in World War One, helping in no small way to perpetuate the confusion regarding the two symbols today.
The snake is significant enough to warrant two constellations of its own, Serpens Caput and Serpens Cauda (the serpent's head and the serpent's tail), but it also forms an integral part of the constellation of Ophiuchus, which can be seen as three constellations in one.
To further complicate matters, there is in fact a fourth constellation within the boundaries of Ophiuchus. It is a small grouping of stars first catalogued by Martin Poczobut, director of the Royal Observatory at Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania). Noting their similarity to the Hyades, that mark the face of the bull in the constellation Taurus, he named the constellation Taurus Poniatovii, (Poniatowski's Bull), to honor Stanislaus Poniatowski, king of Poland. The constellation was added to the star charts of the time, and persisted for more than a century before it was dropped, and the stars re-absorbed by Ophiuchus. The obsolete figure can be seen on Jamieson's 1822 star atlas at the top of the page.
The brightest star in the constellation (alpha ophiuchi) is Ras Alhague, which is Arabic for head of the serpent charmer. It has a magnitude of 2.09, and is 60 light years away. Beta ophiuchi is named Cebalrai, which means the shepherd's dog, as some early Arab stargazers saw a shepherd (alpha) with his dog (beta) and a scattering of sheep (taurus poniatovii).
Sabik, situated on the hip of the figure, means the preceding one, but since it is one of the trailing stars in the constellation, it's hard to say what it is preceding. The star on the other hip is called Han, whose meaning seems to have become lost over time. The star Sinistra means "left hand." Yed Prior and Yed Posterior are the front and back of the other hand. The star Marfic quite naturally means the elbow.
Barnard's Star (sometimes called Barnard's Runaway Star) has the distinction of being the fastest star in the sky. All the stars in the heavens are moving, in various directions and various speeds, but they are so far away, they appear to stand still. It normally takes thousands of years for there to be any change in position noticable to the naked eye. But Barnard's Star only takes 175 years to traverse a half degree across the sky - the width of a full Moon. The reason this star seems to move so quickly is because it has an unusually high velocity of about 103 miles per second, coupled with the fact that it is very close - only 6 light years away. Only the triple star system of Alpha Centauri is closer. Unfortunately, Barnard's Star is a small red dwarf with a magnitude of 9.53, making it invisible to the naked eye and most backyard scopes.
Ophiuchus is crowded with globular clusters. Some are even large and bright enough to see with the naked eye, and at least half a dozen are excellent targets for backyard scopes. You can find their locations on the chart above.
Ophiuchus is situated on the ecliptic, the path the Sun, Moon, and all the planets follow across the sky. There are 13 constellations that lie on the ecliptic, and the Sun, Moon and planets pass through all of them. These are the constellations of the zodiac, which figure so prominently in the pseudo-science of astrology. However, for some reason astrology only recognizes twelve of these constellations. Even though the bodies of our solar system spend more time in Ophiuchus than in many of the other constellations, it is not included in the classic twelve "signs" of the zodiac. This fact, combined with the phenomenon of precession, means that horoscopes and other astrological predictions cannot possibly be accurate, and remain nothing more than entertaining fantasies.
There are seven stars (so far) in Ophiuchus that have been found to have planets in orbit around them. One of these stars is visible to the naked eye. It is the star Sinistra, located 152 light years away, and shining brightly with a magnitude of 3.3. The two planets that have been discovered (so far) around this star are truly massive, both of them more than 22 times the size of Jupiter.