When Charley Pride sang “Snakes Crawl at Night” he wasn’t talking about the constellations, but he might as well have been. When twilight gives way to darkness there are two snakes stretching nearly halfway across the sky. The first is Hydra the female water snake, which is also the largest constellation. It is so long it takes eight hours to rise completely. At 11 pm these evenings it stretches along the horizon with its head in the west and its tail to the south. In this position the snake takes only three hours to nestle underground
Almost as long but more U-shaped is Serpens, the only constellation that is in two parts, separated by Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. The western half is called Serpens Caput, the head of the snake, and the eastern half is the tail, Serpens Cauda. Ophiuchus represents Asclepius, a son of the Greek god Apollo, who learned the healing arts by watching a snake bring another back to life. The Rod of Asclepius, a snake entwined around a staff, is the symbol of medicine and health.
If your like things in threes you can look at serpentine Draco as a snake instead of a dragon. Its tail begins above the bowl of the Big Dipper, with the body curling around the Little Dipper before arcing back toward the foot of Hercules. If that doesn’t suit you then you can go Down Under to see Hydrus the male water snake slithering around the south celestial pole.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 5:30 am and sunset will occur at 9:04 pm, giving 15 hours, 34 minutes of daylight (5:38 am and 9:06 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 5:28 am and set at 9:09 pm, giving 15 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (5:36 am and 9:11 pm in Saint John).
The Moon is near Mars on Sunday and is at third quarter on Wednesday. Venus and Jupiter dominate the western and southeastern sky, respectively, during the evening. If you can landmark where they are in bright twilight, try to see them before sunset without optical aid the next clear evening. Saturn is slowly moving westward over the lid of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism, and by the end of the month it will be rising before sunset. Mars continues to brighten in the morning sky; it will be the main attraction for observers this summer. Mercury is in superior conjunction on Tuesday, passing behind the Sun.
The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on June 2 at 7 pm. All are welcome.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason at email@example.com.