The story of Ophiuchus and Serpens is also connected with Scorpius and Orion. Orion was a great hunter and although his skills truly were good, he had an ego which exceeded his boasting. One day, Orion, no doubt to impress some fem fatale nearby, made the claim that he could, and might, kill all beasts. Whether or not the female was impressed, we shall never know, but certainly the gods were not. In fact, Orion's boasting annoyed the gods who, in their best tradition decided to set Orion straight. And so the gods sent the Scorpion to Earth to sting Orion on the heel, with the idea that the great hunter would fail to notice such a small animal. They were right and Orion was stung. This act is actually portrayed among the constellations themselves, for, as Scorpius rises in the eastern sky, Orion dies and sets in the western horizon.

But that is not the end to our story, for there are always those who will meddle with the affairs of Earthly beings. On this particular occasion, it was a man known as Asclepius, who was a great legendary healer. Asclepius healed Orion and promptly ground the scorpion under his foot. Again, this is portrayed in the skies as Orion rising in the east as Scorpius, directly under the feet of Ophiuchus, sets in the west.

The name Ophiuchus is derived from the Greek word for "serpent handler." There is no healer or god with the name Ophiuchus, but he has always been associated with Asclepius. Eventually they both became known by Ophiuchus.

Asclepius/Ophiuchus with serpent entwined around his head and arms, has long been a symbol of the medical profession. Ophiuchus was actually raised by the kind centaur Chiron who taught medical skills to the boy. Over time, Ophiuchus became an incredible healer. Indeed, he could even bring the dead back, and Hades, who ruled the underworld, complained to Zeus that his realm was threatened. Finally, Zeus struck Ophiuchus down with a thunderbolt, but placed him in the sky so that he might be remembered.

For the Observer

Alpha Ophiuchi, Ras Alhague (17h 35m +12°34') A blue-white giant with a magnitude of 2.1 The star is a class A5 and is 60 light years distant.

Beta Ophiuchi, Cheleb(17h 43m +04°34') is a yellow giant class K2 star. It has a magntiude of 2.8 and lies 100 light years distant.

M9 (NGC 6333) (17h 16.2m -18°28') A small but bright globular cluster with a magnitude of 8.

M10 (NGC 6254) (16h54.5m -04°02') Globular star cluster, bright and easily located in binoculars. The magnitude is 7 and it is a rich cluster and good resolution may be achieved in an 8 inch scope and dark skies.

M12 (NGC 6218) (16h 44.6m -01°52') Globular star cluster of magnitude 8. It is a loose structure with some central concentration. Because of the loose structure it is more resolvable in smaller scopes.

M14 (NGC 6402) (17h 35.0m -03°13') Globular star cluster, rather dim, or 9th magnitude. The cluster has no real concentration, but is uniformly faint. It takes an 8 inch scope for any resolution at all.

M19 (NGC 6273) (16h 59.5m -26°11') is a globular star cluster of magnitude 7.

Copyright © 1995 - 2003
Kathy Miles, Author, and Chuck Peters, Systems Administrator