March Skies by Starlitenergies
“Then a light among them brightened,
So that, if Cancer one such crystal had,
Winter would have a month of one sole day.”
~ The Divine Comedy, Dante
We have entered the best time of year to catch a glimpse of Cancer (Latin for Crab) if you want to get technical with a telescope go for, right Ascension: 9 hours, Declination: 20 degrees, and visible between latitudes 90 and -60 degrees at 9pm (UK time).
To be honest you’ve probably never actually seen old crabby at least not with the naked eye, this is the faintest of the 13 zodiac constellations. In early March every year, the constellation Cancer can be seen due south, highest in the sky around 9pm in the UK. On a moonless night, out in the countryside cancer is weirdly easy to see and appears like a very dim upside-down Y.
Let’s say you have vague idea of what some of the other constellations look like, Cancer has Gemini in the west, Lynx to the north, Leo Minor to the northeast, Leo to the east, Hydra to the south and Canis Minor to the Southwest.
Cancer is one of the 48 constellations identified in the 2nd Century, Greek-Egyptian astronomer Claudis Ptolemaeus’ (aka. Ptolemy) Almagest and today is one of the 88 constellations that are recognised by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
Within this constellation there are 5 named stars; Acubens (claw) a double star, Altarf (eye) which is the brightest, some think 660 times brighter than our sun, and an orange hued giant star, Asellus Borealis (northern donkey/ass) a white-hued star, Asellus Australis (southern donkey/ass) another orange-hued star and second brightest of the 5, and, Tegmen (shell) actually a system of at least 4 stars.
Cancer is home to many deep sky objects. NGC 2775 – a spiral galaxy which has been the location of 5 supernovae explosions in the past 30 years, DX Cancri – a cool red dwarf star which the closest star in the constellation cancer to earth, 55 Cancri – a binary star system which has a solar system of its own, containing a yellow dwarf known as Cancri A that has 5 planets orbiting it, the innermost planet is thought to be a terrestrial “super earth” and originally thought to have a diamond core.
In 1771 Charles Messier (French Astronomer) found several objects in our night sky they are denoted as M (then a number) and Cancer has one of the most famous, The Beehive cluster or M44. It’s a small cluster of stars which resemble a swarm of bees; others have described it as a cloud of stars, mistaking it for a nebulous object. Ptolemy said, “the nebulous mass in the breast of Cancer”. The breast of the crab is also known as Praesepe (the multitude or manger).
I say small, but it’s thought to be three times the size of our moon and have at least 1000 stars. It was one of the first objects studied by Galileo as it’s the nearest open cluster relative to our solar system. So far, 11 white dwarfs have been identified; it also contains red giants representing the later stages of stellar evolution, which to me means its old, 600 million according to one amateur astronomer I met recently.
Pliny used this group of stars as an indicator of wet weather, saying that when Praesepe is not visible in a clear sky, there is the likelihood of a violent storm to come. Rain was expected from the South if North Asellus was concealed, and from the North if South Asellus was concealed.
Oh, this is a photo I got at a recent stargazing party
Another notable object is M67, which happens to be one of the oldest known clusters in our Milky Way; it has 100 stars similar to our sun and many red giants. The estimated star count is over 500, making it a fantastic cluster for studying stellar evolution.
A little bit of Astrology
The tropic of cancer was named after the constellation; this is a line of latitude 23.5 degrees north, where the sun is directly overhead t noon on the 21st June, the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere. When the lines were named 2000 years ago, the sun was in the constellation of cancer, now the precession of the equinoxes has meant the sun is no longer in Cancer during the summer solstice, but more in to Taurus.
Ancient Chaldean and Platonist philosophy said as the sign of the Sun's greatest elevation, Cancer was considered nearest to the highest point of heaven - thus the constellation was recognised as 'the Gate of Men' through which souls descended to Earth from heaven.
However, in astrology Cancer will likely remain one of the four cardinal (hinge) signs that indicate a change of season (2000-year-old system after all). As the fourth zodiac, the sun transits this area on average between 22nd June and 22nd July with those born between these dates being called “Cancerians”. The cardinal signs are the trendsetters and spotters, the ones who get the party started.
Cancer energy with its strong claws and vulnerable underbelly can make us cling to comforts – from job security to beloved family, friends and even pets. Therefore, change can threaten this security-seeking sign, which seems to want to plant deep roots. Under the influence of a cancer transit, we tend to feel nostalgic. They are times of nurturing ourselves and our loved ones.
The crab carries its home on its back; this is all about setting up a cosy and safe pace wherever it goes. Cancers will certainly be merry I their home life is serene and harmonious and large, the more the merrier comes to mind! Traditions are upheld in the cancer household, since these folks really do prize their family histories. Ruled by the moon fertility is a quality Cancers find most pleasing as well as a desire to protect home and hearth.
The essence of Cancer energy is tenacious, highly imaginative, loyal, sensitive, domestic, feminine, maternal, fertile, compassionate, caretaking, romantic, persuasive and creative. But they can also be isolated, passive aggressive, hypersensitive, pessimistic, suspicious, insecure, moody, and overly competitive.
Under the Cancer influence, emotions of intuitions overrule logic and intellect. They’ll cry you a river if they feel inclined too, ever heard the phrase “first to laugh, first to cry…” that’s the cardinal crab! They are the fluid river that gets the emotion ocean and creative juices flowing. Deeply intuitive and sentimental, Cancer can be one of the most challenging zodiac signs to get to know, they are incredibly loyal and able to emphasise deeply with others pain and suffering. Give the crab time if they’ve isolated and crawled into their shell, it can be a Herculean task to pry them out of their moody hiding places, but eventually they’ll want to come out to play again.
I could go on and on about Cancer in Astrology, but I’m not going too. There’s plenty of websites and books out there to read, including some in the sources below.
A little Myth…
Since ancient times, constellation myths have told the tales of gods and monsters, heroes and villains, and other legends using only the stars in the night sky.
People have looked upon the stars since the beginning of time, divining meaning out of the seemingly random specks of light that dot the sky. In man's attempt to draw meaning from the powerful and mysterious forces of the universe, legends have been told about the purpose and creation of these stars. Constellations, in and of themselves, are simply man-made groupings of stars, created to explain the most ancient and important questions of all time.
According to an ancient Greek legend, the figure of a gigantic crab was placed in the night time sky by the goddess Hera to form the constellation Cancer. Hera swore to kill Heracles, the most famous Greek hero. Hera attempted to kill Heracles in many different ways, but each time his incredible physical strength allowed him to survive. The Romans called him Hercules.
Hera cast a spell of madness on Heracles, causing him to commit a great crime. In order to be forgiven, he had to perform twelve difficult tasks. One of these tasks was destroying the terrible nine-headed water-serpent, Hydra.
During the battle between Heracles and Hydra, the goddess Hera sent a giant crab to aid the serpent. But Heracles, being so strong, killed the crab by smashing its shell with his foot. As a reward for its service, Hera placed the crab's image in the night sky.
Another version states that Cancer bit Hercules while he was fighting Hydra, and so the hero kicked him so hard he landed among the darkest part of the sky. Giving cancer the name “dark sign”.
The North and South Aselli stars, The Asses, represent the asses ridden by Dionysos and Hephaestus whose braying terrified the Titans. Praesepe is sometimes depicted as their manger. Robson states that the Asses can show a charitable nature and caring responsibility, but with a danger of violent death, serious accidents and burns.
Nonetheless the crab is a celebration of loyalty, persistence and determination.
Pliny, Natural History, II. A reproduction of Pliny's 1st century text
Robson, Fixed Stars and Constellations, 1923, p.116.
R.H. Allen, Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning; 1899, Dover Publications, pp. 107-108
J.M. Woolford, The Only Astrology book you'll ever need
J. Spiller, Astrology for the soul (1997)