Job 26:13.
By His Spirit He Hath Garnished the Heavens;
His Hand Hath Formed

The Crooked Serpent
From the Biblical times of the Old Testament and long before, the stars have included an “Image of the Serpent.” Such a sky pattern was known to the inhabitants of the land of the Euphrates by the name nu-tsir-da.

The stars that comprise the constellation Serpens originally depicted the reptile in the hand of Ophiuchus, the snake-holder. Ultimately, as the mythology of the Arabs and Greeks blended into a mixture of both cultures, the patterns split into the separate entities, with the serpent being additionally split into the head, Serpens Caput, and the tail, Serpens Cauda. However, the two parts of this image are but one in the list of 88 recognized constellations today.

Ancient stories of monsters dealt with only one sort that was of benefit to mankind. These were the Centaurs. Chiron, for example, was skilled in the arts of medicine, music, and the art of prophecy, as well as in archery and hunting. Jupiter placed this wisest of all the Centaurs into the heavens as Sagittarius after his death. Aesculapius, son of Apollo and the Thessalian princess Coronis, was entrusted, on his mother’s early death, to the care and training of Chiron. The child once found a snake in the house of a playmate and killed it; but then observed another snake glide into the room carrying an herb which restored life to its mate. Aesculapius seized the herb and learned its use in the healing powers. The lad grew up to be a renowned physician, capable even of restoring the dead to life. Pluto, god of the lower world and brother of Jupiter, felt threatened by this talent and convinced Jupiter to strike the doctor dead with a thunderbolt. Later, Jupiter recanted and placed the martyr in the sky, together with his serpent, as Ophiuchus, the serpent holder.

So, it can be considered that the stars of Serpens may represent one of the two snakes that symbolize medicine and healing and appear on the caduceus, winged staff of the medical profession. Greek tradition claims that Hippocrates, the great physician, was a direct descendent of Aesculapius, the patron saint of doctors.

To find a beautiful cluster of stars, M5, in Serpens, you might start from Alpha Serpentis, 20° due south of Corona Borealis. Then go 4.3° further south and 6.6° west. Another approach would be to start at Arcturus, go southeast to Zeta Bootis, then 10° due south to fourth magnitude 109-Virginis. Look to the east to 110-Virginis and continue in a straight line an equal distance to find the beautiful star cluster. The five thousand stars in this cluster are 27 thousand light years distant.

Eagle Nebula M16The M16 Eagle Nebula– the eagle formed by dark dust features in front of the luminous gas cloud–combines with a star cluster to form a stunning sight, as captured in this photo by Conrad Jung, taken from Fremont Peak.
In the other part of Serpens, across Ophiuchus from the head of the snake, in Serpens Cauda, is M16, an open cluster of about 60 stars surrounded by an interesting and vast nebula crossed by dark formations of dust clouds. This is the Eagle Nebula, named for the shape seen projected against the bright luminous background. This is the location of the amazing Hubble Space Telescope Pillars of Creation image that captured everyone’s imagination when it was recently released. The gigantic, eerie columns of molecular hydrogen gas seen in that photo serve as incubators for new stars. They are 7000 light years from Earth.

Studies prove that the M16 stars are very young, perhaps 800,000 years old, on average, as contrasted to the age of the M5 stars, which are 10 billion years old.
Another open cluster of stars lies at the northern limits of Serpens Cauda. Designated IC4756, this is an area best seen in binoculars, as it occupies an area about a degree in diameter.

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