This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.
Some years ago I was a visitor at the San Jose Astronomy Club listening to a prominent local astronomer from the University of California, Berkeley, he was giving a lecture on constellations.
He happened to mention the name of “Ophiuchus” a constellation next to Hercules, one I don’t recollect ever hearing before. So whenever things go over my head I have a tendency to make a joke about it so as not to feel left out.
So he comes up with the name of Ophiuchus and I promptly blurt out, loud enough for everyone in the audience to hear including the speaker, “God Bless You.”
Well of course I got a big laugh. But then he surprises everyone and immediately comes back at me with one of his own and says, “Did I get any on you, and do you happen to have a tissue my boy?
Well, needless to say he got a bigger laugh than I did and put me in my place, and needless to say I didn’t open my mouth for the rest of the evening, which was quite hard for me to do. But I did manage.
While growing up on the corner of Hawkins and Washington streets here in Hollister our family didn’t have the privilege or the convenience of having a TV at the time, and for sure not the internet. The what? All we had was the library, a magazine now and then, and the daily Free Lance reporting on the front page, stories such as “South County’s Old Mrs. Carter fell and broke her hip last Monday.”
Those were the good ole days. When I did get my hands on an Astronomy article I would come up with my own ways of pronouncing most of the Greek and Latin words for lack of having the proper guidance from anyone to show me how they should be pronounced. Words like Cassiopeia, (Cas’see’o’pe’a, Not Caseopia) Sagittarius, Andromeda, Eridanus, and of course Ophiuchus. (O’ fee’ cus, Not Op’hee’u’chus) Remember I was still young and learning, …….with three children, ……two Grandchildren, ……and quite slow at the time.
It turns out Ophiuchus is a man who leads a pretty dangerous life. Here the man is standing with one foot on the head of a scorpion and his other foot on the scorpion’s stinger. In both hands he’s holding a large snake, which is the constellation Serpens (finally one I can pronounce properly). Serpens is the only constellation that comes in two separate parts. Perhaps Ophiuchus (whose name means in Greek “snake holder”) has torn the snake into two pieces.
You remember that the constellations that the ecliptic passes through are called the Zodiac. There are 12; Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus, and Aquarius. But the ecliptic actually passes through the feet of Ophiuchus also.
So as far as I’m concerned Ophiuchus should be counted as the 13th zodiacal constellation. After all, the sun, moon, and planets spend more time in Ophiuchus than they do in Scorpius.
So what month should this new found zodiac figure represent? I’ll have to give this some serious thought for a while and get back to you. In the meantime if you come up with a respectable answer, drop me a line.
So next time you are out at night give ole Ophi a look see, and look for the two piece snake, Surpens, not easy to find.
What’s up the rest of this month
Aug 17: Moon is at perigee (229,363 miles from Earth)
Aug 18: Mercury passes 0.08 degrees south of Mars
Aug 20: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Saturn
Aug 22: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Jupiter
Aug 22: Full Moon
Aug 23: Moon passes 4 degrees south of Neptune
Aug 28: Moon passes 1.5 degrees south of Uranus
Aug 29: Moon is at apogee (251,096 miles from Earth)
Aug 30: Moon at last Quarter