This Is What Ophiuchus Looks Like

by Pamela J. Hobart

Word on the street is that there might be 13 zodiac signs instead of 12, and the new contender, Ophiuchus, is a doozy. What does Ophiuchus look like? Well, Ophiuchus is basically a man wrestling a serpent, but there's so much more to this story.

To take things back a step, how did astrologers miss a zodiac sign for all these years? Well, it's complicated. Apparently the astrologers of the distant past did know about the constellation of Ophiuchus. But because Ophiuchus is short-lived each year (spanning Nov. 29 to Dec. 17) and doesn't fit into the rest of the zodiac system well, the ancient astrologers made an executive decision not to classify Ophiuchus as its own sign, per se.

This little 13 signs/Ophiuchus issue has come up for astrologers repeatedly in the past (for example, in 2011 when the StarTribune, Los Angeles Times, and other outlets ran a story featuring an Ophiuchus defender). The Ophiuchus debate then went viral, giving astronomer Parke Kunkle his 15 minutes of fame and throwing astrology fans everywhere into various states of spiritual disarray.

Since Earth wobbles a little, the small changes in which constellations appear when accumulate over time. Kunkle, that astrology gadfly, amicably points out that the "Babylonians [the originators of the zodiac signs] probably had totally different constellations anyway.” NASA agrees that "astrology is not science," and emphasizes that they (NASA) are mere bearers of facts about the history of astronomy.

Nonetheless, whether Ophiuchus (literally meaning "snake holder") is technically the 13th zodiac sign, or merely a constellation, he is super fierce. According to Time, Ophiucus the serpent wrestler is linked to two real men from history: Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian doctor, and Joseph of the Bible. None of the other zodiac signs have such historical roots. Ophiuchus's alleged origins vary by source, though, so maybe if it becomes an official zodiac sign, the zodiac officials can straighten those out. In any case, those who were born under the zodiac sign of Ophiucus, assuming it's legit, are said to be lucky, truth-seeking, and passionate (but also angry, jealous, and arrogant, so think long and hard before you switch camps).

As for the Ophiuchus constellation itself, to the untrained eye, it basically looks like... a blob with two little tails on the left and right, honestly. Ophiuchus is northwest of the middle of the Milky Way, opposite of the Orion constellation, with two serpent constellations on either side. Notably, Ophiuchus contains Kepler's Supernova, a star, studied by the famous astronomer Kepler in the 17th century. Ophiuchus also contains Barnard's Star, the fastest-moving star in the whole sky.

As usual, it takes a bit of creativity to mentally superimpose the character of Ophiucus onto the bare night sky. Perhaps having so little entertainment gave the ancient progenitors of astrology much more imagination than we enjoy today, because morphing the constellation of Ophiuchus into the shape of the man himself is a bit of a stretch. But if you tilt your head, squint, and feel the astrological force flow through you, there he is.

Images: Sidney Hall, Till Credner, Jacopo Montano/Wikimedia; Giphy