The constellation Serpens is very unique in many different ways. The most noticeable is that it lays in two parts; Serpens Caput which is the head of the serpent and Serpens Cauda, the tail of the serpent. These two separate constellations are joined to form one of the largest constellations in the sky. Serpens is also very unique because it is joined by another constellation, Ophiuchus. Ophiuchus is a man holding onto the serpent. These two constellations appear right next to the Milky Way causing many star formations and exciting stellar activity within the two constellations. (Moore, 128) In 1604, a supernova with a magnitude of 2.5 appeared next to the right leg of Ophiuchus and dissipated in 1605. This supernova is known as Kepler s Supernova. There are only three records of supernovas appearing in this galaxy, and this one is included. Because Ophiuchus and Serpens occupy such a wide celestial field in the West Side of the Milky Way, it is constantly being observed for new stellar activity.
MYTH AND HISTORY
A mortal woman named Eoronius lay on a hillside preparing to give birth and she was with a man named Ischys. As Coronius waited for her son, the baby s father, Apollo, looked down upon earth and witnessed Ischys with his lover. Apollo became insanely jealous and strung a bow piercing Coronius with an arrow. Coronius cried out You could have let me bear your child. Now, in my one person, two will parish. Apollo, not meaning to kill his unborn son as well, quickly swooped down and snatched the boy from Coronius lifeless womb. Apollo took his newly born son, Ophiuchus (also called Aesculapius in Greek mythology), to the cave of Chiron, the Centaur. During Ophiuchus s stay with Chiron, he taught the young boy the art of healing and of medicine. One day as Ophiuchus practiced his lesson, he came upon a snake which looked very deadly and poisonous. He quickly reacted and killed the snake at once. Not long after, another snake came upon him carrying an herb (some believe it to be mistletoe) in it s mouth. The serpent came upon the dead one giving it the herb and reviving it from the dead. Ophiuchus snatched some of the herb that the serpent was carrying and gained the power to bring the dead back to life. This skill-completed Ophiuchus s training in medicine. Not only could he cure illness, he could also revive the dead. The gods became angry because of Ophiuchus s discovery because it made the mortals immortal. Pluto, the god of the Underworld and Realm of the Dead, was especially angry at Ophiuchus s new powers for obvious reasons. His empire was threatened with a depletion of dead and complained to his brother Jupiter. Jupiter agreed with Pluto and decided to take action. He summoned for his eagle, Aquila, to take a thunderbolt and strike the healer down as to prevent his news from spreading. Aquila did just as his master desired and struck Ophiuchus down dead on the earth. Although Jupiter had his motives for keeping the healing herb a secret, he did not want the herb and its magical powers to be erased from existence. Therefore, Jupiter placed the discoverer of the herb among the stars carrying the snake that gave him the secrets of the rejuvenating elixir. The eagle was also put into the stars and stands threatening above Ophiuchus as he slowly sinks below the horizon in the west on an autumn night.
Because of the healing powers that the snake brought, he is known as a symbol of healing of illness and death. This symbol is still recognized today as the medical symbol of two snakes spiraled around a staff with eagles wings perched above. The symbol of the snake is also said to give wisdom, craft, deceit, and malice.
DETAILS OF SERPENS AND OPHIUCHUS
The constellations Serpens and Ophiuchus are found right on the edge of the Milky Way so they include many nebulae, star clusters, and some novae such as Kepler s supernova. One of the most famous globular clusters lies in Serpens, M5. M5 is an elliptical, elongated positioned at about 50 degrees in the sky. It is believed that M5 is one of the oldest globular clusters that have been discovered in the sky. It has been measured to have a computed age of 13 billion years, almost as old as the calculated age of the universe. It is one of the biggest clusters measuring approximately 130 light years across. From the earth, we measure it at about 17 arc minutes because of its enormous distance from our home measuring 23,000 light years. The distance keeps getting larger because M5 is receding from us at 50 kilometers per second. M5 contans many objects including 105? variable stars. Variable stars are stars that have very dramatic changes in brightness. These stars, also called cepheids, have a period of luminosity in which they are very bright, and also an opposing period of dimness. Calcluating these light curves, astronomers can measure the distances to these stars, revealing even more information about the universe that we live in.
During the end of the 15th century and most of the 16th century, many comets passed through the constellations Ophiuchus and Serpens. People had little understanding of these comets that appeared in the years 1495, 1523, 1537, and 1569 and compared these constellations to Satan.
The brightest star in Serpens is the neck and is named Unuk. (Moore, 60) Unuk is an Arabic name which means encompassing. The next brightest star is Cheleb located in the jaw of the Serpens Caput. This Arabic name means the serpent enfolding. The constellation that Serpens wraps about is Ophiuchus which is from the Hebrew language and also is called Afeichus which is Arabic. Both of these names translate into the serpent held. The brightest star in Ophiuchus is in the head and is named Rasal Hagus which is Arabic for the head of him who holds, referring to Ophiuchus and the fact that he holds the Serpent.
POSITIONING OF SERPENS
Serpens and Ophiuchus positioning are very interesting mostly having to do with the sun. Although Ophiuchus is not one of the twelve Zodiac signs, Mr. Royal Hill, an astronomer, writes Out of the twenty-five days from the 21st of November to the 16th of December, which the sun spends its time passing from Libra to Sagittarius, only nine are actually spent in the Scorpion, the other sixteen are being passed through Ophiuchus. This makes Ophiuchus more of a zodiacal constellation that the Scorpion. Ophiuchus is the only constellation that the sun enters but is not a part of the twelve signs of the zodiac. This was because Ophiuchus southern area used to be a part of Scorpious and was changed later.
This constellation can be seen in late spring and through most of the summer. On a July chart it is practically due south and relatively high above the horizon next to the Milky Way. Despite Serpens position in the sky, it is still fairly difficult to see. The two constellations together (Caput and Cauda) only contain one star above a magnitude of 3.5. Since these constellations are so close to the Milky Way, it is very easy to confuse these stars with others because there is such a cluster of stars around them. The constellations around Serpens used to find it, are Ophiuchus, which is the separator of Caput and Cauda. Hercules takes up most of the southern sky extending almost to the zenith. Hercules, Ophiuchus, and Serpens are considered to make up the most confusing part of the sky. In this region there are no well-marked patterns and all of these three constellations are hopelessly intertwined with only one bright star, Alpha Ophiuchi. Other constellations around Serpens are Bootes (the herdsman), Corona Borealis (the northern crown), and Libra (the balance). (Moore, 128)
On a clear night, these constellations are easily visible, although due to light pollution and other pollutants that are in the atmosphere, it makes them very hard to see. These remnants of our civilized society rob us of our right to see beautiful constellations such as Serpens and Ophiuchus. Despite their atmospheric camouflage, the Gods have placed them in the heavens for eternity.
**Here, Serpens, the serpent, is seen struggling vainly in the powerful grasp of the man who is named O-phi-u-chus. In Latin he is called Serpentarius. http://www.gcbec.com.au/annew/ophiciusserpensw.htm **
England. 1974. (pg 60).
Moore, Patrick. Naked Eye Astronomy. W.W. Norton & Company Inc; New York,
New York. 1965. (pgs 127-128).