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Cancer the Crab Constellation - Stars, Facts, Myths - Zodiac Series

Cynthia is a writer, artist, and teacher. She loves studying language, arts, and culture, and sharing that knowledge.

The Constellation Cancer

Many of the major constellations in the sky have a legend or two attached to them.

The constellations of the zodiac are twelve in number.

This hub will focus on the constellation Cancer or The Crab.

Many of the constellations that we know today had Greek names proposed by Ptolemy in A.D. 140. Scientists still use the names for the most part, but many were translated to Latin.


The constellation of Cancer with some of the more minor stars.  It has a number of other stars, as well, that are harder to see.

The constellation of Cancer with some of the more minor stars. It has a number of other stars, as well, that are harder to see.

Cancer Mythology

Legend has it that the constellation Cancer represents a crab that was supposed to rescue a monster with numerous heads named Hydra. Hydra was in a battle with Hercules, who immediately killed the crab.

Juno, the Queen of Olympus, originally sent the crab to kill Hercules. To recognize its sacrifice, Juno asked the god Jupiter to send it to the heavens where all could see it forever.

Within Cancer, the star cluster Praesepe (pronounced prē-sē’-pe) also has some legends and history attached to it. Praesepe is also known as the “Bee Hive.” In ancient times, the star cluster became a weather guide. If, on a clear night you couldn’t see this particular star cluster, a large, violent storm was about to happen.

On either side of the star cluster are two other stars: δ Cancri and γ Cancri - these are their Greek names. The first one is also called “Asellus Australis" and the second is “Asellus Borealis,” - their Latin names.

Legend tells the story of two asses, and how they got their names. The Greek god, Bacchus, happened upon a marsh that was almost impassable. He saw the two asses, mounted one and continued on his way to the Temple of Jove. He was so grateful for their help, he elevated both of them to the heavens. Now, Asellus Borealis is the Northern Ass and Asellus Australis is the Southern Ass.

Praesepe is known as The Manger. Now, δ Cancri and γ Cancri “feed at the manger.”

The Chinese had their own name for the Praesepe cluster: The Exhalation of Piled-Up Corpses, for reasons unknown.

The sign for the zodiacal constellation, Cancer.

The sign for the zodiacal constellation, Cancer.

The constellation Cancer lies between Gemini and Leo.  It is situated in a "triangle" between the stars of Pollux, Procyon, and Regulus.

The constellation Cancer lies between Gemini and Leo. It is situated in a "triangle" between the stars of Pollux, Procyon, and Regulus.

Cancer Constellation Facts

Space is a very interesting place, and it beholds so many facts and mysteries - it's like uncovering intricate puzzle pieces.

In the sky, Cancer is located between the constellation Gemini to the east and Leo to the west. It’s also right above another constellation, Hydra.

Cancer is more difficult to find in the sky because its stars are not very bright, as seen from Earth. Most lie in the 4th or 5th magnitude, meaning that if “O” is brightest and “5” is not very bright, then they won't register as very bright to the naked eye.

Cancer is located between a triangle of stars created by nearby constellations. Pollux (in Gemini) lies to its east, Procyon (Canis Minor) to the south and Regulus (in Leo) to the west. (see photo)

The constellation itself makes an almost upside-down Y-pattern, with β Cancri and α Cancri toward the south, δ Cancri in the middle, γ Cancri in the upper middle part, and ι Cancri to the north.

β Cancri is just northeast of Procyon, Canis Minor's bright star.

α Cancri is also named Acubens. It’s a double star. It lies a few degrees west of β Cancri, and closer to Regulus.

γ Cancri is interesting because the moon often passes in front of it, blocking it from view. This is called “occultation.”

All these are the Greek names for the prominent stars in the constellation. I use them here, because in star charts, these are the names that you often see. See the table below for a listing of their Latin names.

A list of the more major stars in Cancer, their original Greek names and their magnitude (or relative brightness to us here on Earth).

Cancri StarLatin NameMagnitude

α Cancri

Acubens (also means "claws")

4.25

β Cancri

Altarf

3.52

δ Cancri

Asellus Australus

3.94

γ Cancri

Asellus Borealis

4.7

Praesepe, or The Bee Hive.  This is also one of the "messier" objects, classified as M44.

Praesepe, or The Bee Hive. This is also one of the "messier" objects, classified as M44.

More Constellation Information

The Bee Hive

Cancer is notable for its two clusters: M44 and M67. The “M” stands for messier objects.

M44 is also known as Praesepe. You can actually see it without the use of binoculars of a telescope.

Four stars make an imaginary square around it: γ, δ, η and θ Cancri.

Mentioned above, this cluster has a third name, "The Bee Hive." It looks almost like a nebula to the naked eye. Some have mistaken it for a comet. Galileo was the first astronomer to study the cluster when he sighted it with his telescope.

The Bee Hive contains 358 stars. At least 20 of them are ten times brighter than the sun. 80 of those stars are brighter than a magnitude of 10. Many are less bright, as dim as the 18th magnitude.

Praesepe is 500 light years away and is 30 light years across.

The Cluster M67

The other cluster, M67 is over 2,500 light years away. It has about 1,000 stars attributed to it. Though you can see it with the naked eye, it's definitely more difficult than with binoculars or a telescope. Most of the stars bear a magnitude between 9 and 12.5.

Cancer is also interesting in that in June of 1895, all the planets in our solar system, except Neptune, could be found in this constellation in the sky. Halley’s Comet also made an appearance in the constellation in 1531.

© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun

Comments

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 29, 2012:

Terrye - comin' right up! (uh...in like a couple of weeks, LOL.)

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on August 28, 2012:

lol I'll look forward to reading it! :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 28, 2012:

Good to know! That's coming right up, isn't it? Hahaha. Terrye's an Aries. I'll remember that. :D

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on August 28, 2012:

lol I'm a stubborn Aries. :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 28, 2012:

Terrye - what "sign" are you? Perhaps I'll make a special mention of your name when I get to yours. :D Thanks for stopping by!

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on August 28, 2012:

I really like this astrological series, CC. I always learn something fascinating. :) Keep up the great work!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 31, 2012:

RHW - you rock! That is SO COOL that your kiddos are learning that in science. I'm about to publish one on Leo - hopefully tomorrow. :) It is fun to learn about the mythological origins of the constellations. Thanks for comin' by!!

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on July 31, 2012:

Really interesting! I love astrology - but it's hard! I have a program on my iPad that points out the constellations and all kinds of neat features but it is still hard to understand.

My kids will love this hub too - they are learning about some of that in science. Very cool hub!!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 31, 2012:

Cara - fun!! Now you have a fun mythological story to share, hehe. He'll be like, "Where's that crab?" Hehe. Thanks for stopping by!

cardelean from Michigan on July 30, 2012:

Very well researched hub. My son is a cancer. I didn't know any of this before reading this, thanks for the lesson!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 30, 2012:

Very cool, GC. Hehe, I'm starting the research for "Leo." It's really fun uncovering these mythological mysteries. LOL. Thanks for stopping by! :)

Anna from New York, NY on July 30, 2012:

This is such an awesome and well researched hub. I had no idea about the mythological history of the zodiac and it was interesting to learn about Cancer. My mom is a cancer so I am sharing this with her. Voted up and interesting!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 28, 2012:

Teresa - I PROMISE you, you'll get your Pisces hub. :) Thanks for stopping by!! I appreciate you. Hubhugs!

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on July 27, 2012:

Another interesting astrology hub. I'm not a Cancer but a Pisces. Love to read the history of that one. Great series Cyndi. Keep it up!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 26, 2012:

Aw, K9, you are too sweet! Thank you so much for your awesome feedback. It's fun to read about the history of a constellation, especially when we have family members that fall into a category. :D Cheers and hubhugs (I've totally stolen that term, LOL).

India Arnold from Northern, California on July 26, 2012:

So much wonderful information, CC. My mother was a cancer and she would have loved this educational read on the subject very much. You are so thorough in this piece! Amazing read. Many votes, my friend--totally Tweetable!

HubHugs~

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 25, 2012:

Cogerson - hey, thanks! :) It was interesting researching this hub - I enjoyed learning about the mythology and background for the constellation. I definitely intend to do more of these. Thanks for stopping by!

UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on July 24, 2012:

A very impressive hub....a hub that was interesting and educational....I loved the charts/photos you included in the hub as they really helped understand the things you were writing about...voted up, awesome and interesting.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 24, 2012:

tillsontitan - hehe, I'm getting an education, too. I had no idea that there were mythological legends attached to the constellations. They're very cool. :D Thanks so much for stopping by at another of my hubs. I appreciate you. Hubhugs!

Mary Craig from New York on July 24, 2012:

You are educating this old lady...I know, you're probably thinking its about time but we learn something new everyday thanks to people like you and your great hubs!

Voted up and interesting.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 23, 2012:

Teaches - hehe, I definitely focused on the more scientific part of this, but I might have to look into doing astrological ones, too. It could be interesting. :D Thanks so much for stopping by. Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 23, 2012:

Tammy!! Hello sweet friend! Hehe, did ya like the part about the asses? HAHAHA. I wondered if anyone would chuckle at that. I actually had to "reword" the sentence a couple times...it originally started with, "Two asses start the story..." but then I figured that might throw people off. Hehe. Hubhugs to you and have a wonderful day!

Dianna Mendez on July 22, 2012:

Really interesting read here, cclitgirl. My hubby as a constellation app on his phone and I am going to have to look up this one tonight. Great topic and very well covered.

Tammy from North Carolina on July 22, 2012:

Very interesting! I didn't know the history behind this sign and I am married to one. Had to chuckle when you wrote it started with two asses.. tee hee. I love hubs where I can learn something. Awesome!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 22, 2012:

Sunshine - hehe, if not October, my sis-in-law just called and said November is better. But I already told my hubby that we need to make a stop in Orlando proper. :D

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 22, 2012:

Michiganman567 - thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your feedback. Cheers!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 22, 2012:

Clevercat - I DO plan on doing more of these, but I'm going to do them during the month of the zodiac that it's time for. Since we just got into "Leo," I'll actually do that one in the not-too-distant future. :)

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on July 22, 2012:

It's a date in October and also a great time to visit weather wise! Keep me posted. Avon is open 27/7 :)

michiganman567 from Michigan on July 22, 2012:

Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed your hub.

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on July 22, 2012:

Fun! Fun! Do you plan to do more along this same vein? I would love to read about more constellations.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 22, 2012:

Sunshine - really?! We might be there in October! I'll have to look you up and get my Avon list ready, hehe. Take care and hugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 22, 2012:

Patty - thank you so much. :) I am enjoying these. I'll probably wait until next month to complete the one on Leo. Cheers!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on July 22, 2012:

Longwood is about 40-45 minutes away. Be sure and visit me next time you visit your sis:)

Patty Kenyon from Ledyard, Connecticut on July 22, 2012:

Awesome and Interesting!!! Once again Great Job!!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 22, 2012:

Curiad - well, let's get Hercules to crush that "crab" of an illness so that you can emerge all nice and healthy. I'll keep you in my thoughts. Feel better soon!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 22, 2012:

Hah, Linda, well, she's in the suburb of Longwood. But, you COULD be neighbors, LOL.

Curiad on July 22, 2012:

I think I was a Crab this birthday, I have been very ill with some horrible intestinal bug for 10 days now.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on July 22, 2012:

Your sister lives in Orlando? We could be neighbors with the same HOA!! ;)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 22, 2012:

Haha, Sunshine. You're too funny. Um...I put that "poll" under my Gemini hub. Hahah. Oh...and you're in Orlando? As I write this, my sister-in-law and her family are on their way back to Orlando from a nice visit here in western NC. :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 22, 2012:

Curiad - cool! I hope you had a Crab- er, fun-filled birthday! Cheers!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on July 22, 2012:

I'm proud to be a crab. Where's the info about what makes the crab the best astrology sign? :)

Curiad on July 22, 2012:

Very interesting Cyndi, I am a cancer but never knew this history.