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

Updated on April 16, 2016

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. | Source
The sign for the zodiacal constellation, Cancer.
The sign for the zodiacal constellation, Cancer. | Source

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 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. | Source

Did You Know the Mythological History of Cancer?

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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.

Cancri Star
Latin Name
Magnitude
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
A list of the more major stars in Cancer, their original Greek names and their magnitude (or relative brightness to us here on Earth).
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. | Source

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.

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    • Curiad profile image

      Mark G Weller 4 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

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

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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. :)

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

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

    • Curiad profile image

      Mark G Weller 4 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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!

    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 4 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

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

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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!

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

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

    • michiganman567 profile image

      michiganman567 4 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed your hub.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from North Carolina

      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!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      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.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      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.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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!

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

      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.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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!

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 4 years ago from Northern, California

      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~

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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).

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      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!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

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

    • Global-Chica profile image

      Anna 4 years ago from New York, NY

      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!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

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

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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!

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      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!!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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!!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      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!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      lol I'm a stubborn Aries. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

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

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

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

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

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

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