constellations cancer

The Legends of Cancer

The Beehive cluster, located in the middle of the constellation, is also known as “the Manger,” with the gamma and delta stars of Cancer nicknamed the northern and southern “donkey.” These animals symbolized the braying livestock that frightened away the mythical Giants that Dionysus and the other gods of Mt. Olympus were about to go to war with.

Chinese astronomers placed the constellation of Cancer in the 23rd lunar mansion. The four bright stars surrounding the Beehive Cluster, the delta, gamma, eta, and theta stars of Cancer, appeared to them as “ghosts” or demons, and in the center were the ghostly auras of the dead riding in a carriage from one world to another.

The most well-known story of the constellation Cancer involves Hercules, son of Zeus and one of the strongest and bravest mythical warriors. He completed the Twelve Labors and then joined Jason and the Argonauts in the quest for the Golden Fleece.

The second of the Twelve Labors was to kill the Lernaean Hydra, a water snake with many heads, poisonous blood, and a deadly bite. While Hercules was fighting, his step-mother Hera placed a crab at his feet to bite and distract him. Hercules fought without interruption, though, stepping on the crab and killing it.

Enraged, Hera placed the crab in the night sky as the constellation Cancer.

  • Alpha Cancri, also known as “the claw,” is an interesting quadruple star system. At 174 light years from earth, the primary is a white main sequence star with a companion star just 493 million miles (790 kilometers) away. The secondary consists of two main sequence stars.
  • Beta Cancri is the brightest star in Cancer. A binary star 290 light years from earth, the primary is an orange giant that has aged past it’s main sequence phase and has expanded to 50 times the size of the earth’s sun. The secondary is a small red dwarf star.
Cancer Beehive Cluster
The Beehive Cluster, or Praesepe, is a cluster of “young” stars, just 500-700 million years old at a distance of only 590 light years