Cancer is represented in the heavens as a crab situated between Leo on the east and Gemini on the west. It is best viewed in the early spring near the celestial equator.
Cancer is the faintest constellation in the entire zodiac, its
brightest star is only of the fourth magnitude. M-44 or “the Bee Hive
Cluster” can be seen with binoculars. It is bordered by the
constellations Canis Minor, Gemini, Hydra, Leo, Leo Minor, and Lynx.
In the zodiacs of Esne and Dendera, and in most of the astrological
remnants of ancient Egypt, a scarab or beetle symbolizes Cancer. In Sir
William Jones’s Oriental Zodiac, and in some others found in India, we
meet with the figure of a crab. As the Hindus probably derived their
knowledge of the stars from the Chaldeans, it is supposed that the crab
sign is more ancient than the beetle.
The sign of Cancer usually is assigned to the tribe of Reuben in
Jewish astrological lore.
In some eastern representations of this sign, two animals which look
like jack-asses are found. Because the Chaldaic name for the ass may be
translated “muddiness,” it is supposed to allude to the discoloring of
the Nile, since that river rose when the sun entered Cancer. In copying
this sign, the Greeks also symbolized it with two jack-asses because
these animals assisted Zeus in his victory over the giants.
Mythological stories give different accounts of the origin of this
constellation. The prevailing opinion is that while Hercules was
engaged in his famous contest with the dreadful Hydra, Juno, envious of
the fame of his achievements, sent a sea-crab to nip, bite and annoy the
hero. Though the crab was soon crushed underfoot by Hercules,
the goddess placed it among the constellations in reward for its
Like other zodiac constellations, Cancer was catalogued by the Greek astronomer
Ptolemy in the 2nd century.
Right Ascension: 08:38
Diameter (°): 17
Area (square °): 506
Opposition: Jan 27
Size Rank: 31st
Brightness Rank: 56th
Major stars in Cancer
Acubens – α Cancri (Alpha Cancri)
Al Tarf – β Cancri (Beta Cancri)
Asellus Australis – δ Cancri (Delta Cancri)
Asellus Borealis – γ Cancri (Gamma Cancri)
Tegmine – ζ Cancri (Zeta Cancri)
λ Cancri (Lambda Cancri)
ξ Cancri (Xi Cancri)
Deep Sky Objects in Cancer
Messier 44 (Beehive Cluster, Praesepe, M44, NGC 2632, Cr 189)
Messier 67 (M67, NGC 2682)
NGC 2535 & NGC 2536
NGC 2608 (Arp 12)
NGC 2775 (Caldwell 48)
Mythology of the Constellation Cancer
In another legend, Cancer is associated with the second great feat of
Hercules. In the story of the “Twelve Labours of Hercules”. Cancer the
Crab was sent by Hera rather than Juno to fight alongside the sea
monster Hydra. Hercules had been sent to vanquish the Lernaean Hydra who
resided at the entrance to the underworld.
The monster Hydra had been raised by Hera for the purpose of slaying
Hercules. The fearsome, multi-headed beast was so noxious that even the
scent of it was deadly. To help defeat Hydra, Hercules enlisted the help
of his nephew Iolaus to cauterize each head so it would not regenerate
in the fight.
The goddess Hera was not pleased to see the pair overcoming murderous
sea monster so as a distraction she also sent the giant crab who
attacked the Hero. Hercules made short work of the crab and slayed both
Hydra and Cancer. Heartbroken at the loss of the two, Hera put both
Hydra and Cancer in the stars.
Sun Enters: June 22
Sun Leaves: July 22
Positives: Protective, sensitive, strong
maternal/paternal instinct, cautious, tenacious, resourceful, greatly
Negatives: Hyper-protective, mean-tempered,
unforgiving, hidden personal weaknesses, easily flattered, self-pitying,
As a Child: Repentant, dolly-loving
Career: Nurse, Doctor