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
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 mothers 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.
The M16 Eagle Nebula the
eagle formed by dark dust features in front of the luminous gas
cloudcombines 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
everyones 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
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.