|Cancer the Crab is the faintest of the
Zodiac constellations, but it once had a position of importance in the
sky. During the time of ancient Greece the Sun reached it's most
northerly position in the sky in Cancer, and this is why the Tropic of
Cancer was named so (In the present day the sun now reaches the solstice
point near the star eta (h)
Geminorum.) To find Cancer in the sky look between Gemini
and Leo, although you may need a dark sky to see
all it's stars.
According to Greek mythology Cancer was
the crab sent by Hera to distract Hercules as
he fought the Hydra in the marshes at Lerna. Hercules trod on it
during the course of the long battle, whence Hera placed it amongst the
stars for it's service.
Cancri is also known as Acubens, which means claw. It marks
one of the large front claws that are common on crabs; the opposite claw
is marked by iota Cancri but it has no other name.
and delta (d)
Cancri are known as Asellus borealis and Asellus australis
respectively. Their names mean the Northern Donkey and the Southern
Donkey, and they are eating from the large open star cluster called Praesaepe,
which means "the Manger." Some stories say they are the donkeys in
the stable when Jesus was born, other stories say they were two donkey's
that helped the Titans during the war with Zeus and his siblings in Greek
mythology. Praesaepe is little used now, the common name of the Beehive
is becoming popular instead. If one looks carefully through large
binoculars or a small telescope you may be able to make out the pyramid-like
beehive with a few bees buzzing around it.
An excerpt from Johan van
Keulen's Boeck zee-kaardt, 1709.
Cancer lies between Gemini
and Leo. The sloping black dashed line
marks the path of the sun
throughout the sky during the year - we can
see it now reaches it's
most northerly point in Gemini.
This article is ©2002