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Cancer Constellation Facts

Madhura Pandit
The Cancer is one of the 12 zodiac constellations observed in the sky. Here are the interesting facts and figures, and mythology associated with this beautiful constellation.
The Cancer was first cataloged by Ptolemy in circa 150 A.D. He listed 48 constellations in total, inclusive of all the 12 zodiac constellations.
A constellation, in simplest way, can be defined as a group of stars found in a specific pattern. However, astronomers define it as a specific region in the sky with a definite boundary that contains stars.
There are 88 known constellations; out of which, 12 are the zodiac constellations. The Cancer is one such constellation named after the crab. Here are some fascinating facts about it.

The Constellation Cancer

The Cancer constellation gets its name from the Greek word for crab, i.e., Cancer. The Sanskrit (Karka) and the Greek (Karkinos) names for Cancer are probably derived from a common root.
The Cancer is one of the faintest constellation, and cannot be seen by naked eye most of the time.
Spring is considered as the best time to view this constellation in the northern hemisphere. Whereas, it can be viewed clearly in autumn in the southern hemisphere.
It is located from 6 degrees north to 33 degrees north; and occupies the total area of 506 square degrees.
  • Abbreviation:  Cnc
  • Nickname: Crab
  • Shape: upside-down 'Y'
It is located in between the Leo (to its east) and the Gemini constellations (to its west); Lynx (in the north) and Hydra and Canis Minor (in the south).
The tropic of Cancer, or the Northern tropic, is named after this constellation.
Stars included in this constellation are Alpha Cancri (Acubens), Beta Cancri (Al-Tarf), Gamma Cancri (Asellus Borealis), Delta Cancri (Asellus Australis), Lambda Cancri (Kwan Kei), Xi Cancri (Nahn), and Zeta Cancri (Tegmine).
Did you know that Gamma Cancri (Asellus Borealis) and Delta Cancri (Asellus Australis) are termed as the 'northern donkey' and the 'southern donkey' respectively?
The name of Alpha Cancri, i.e., Acubens is an Arabic word meaning claws.
  • Rank in the constellation according to size: 31st
  • The brightest star: Beta Cancri (Al-Tarf)
  • The nearest star to the Earth: DX Cancri
The Beta Cancri (Al-Tarf) is the brightest star in the constellation, having a magnitude of 3.5; while the Delta Cancri (Asellus Australis) is the second brightest star with a magnitude of 3.94.
Messier object 44, a cluster of stars called the 'Beehive' or 'Praesepe', is located within the constellation.
Although the symbol of Cancer is a crab, the constellation does not even remotely appear like a crab. It looks more like an upside-down alphabet 'Y', that is believed to be the back of the crab.
Another interesting fact about the constellation Cancer is that its star system, Gamma Cancri is occulted by the moon (and, in rare cases, even by planets).


Like all other zodiac constellations, there is a myth associated with this constellation. The history of this constellation has its roots in the Greek mythology. It is a part of the legend of the Twelve Labors of Hercules.
It is believed that the crab, that represents this constellation, was sent by Hera (Greek God Zeus's younger sister and wife) to distract Hercules in his battle with Hydra (a monster with 9 heads). Hercules was an illegitimate son of Zeus and was disliked by Hera.
In one of the 12 labors or trials, Hercules came face to face with Hydra, a monster in the water.
At this very time, Hera sent the crab to nip Hercules and help Hydra win the battle. But, the crab got crushed and was killed by Hercules. But, Hera was grateful for the crab's loyalty, and hence, put it in the sky, which later came to be known as the constellation Cancer.

Cancer Zodiac Sign

People born in between 21st June to 22nd July belong to the zodiac sign Cancer. The characteristic traits of Cancerians are sympathetic and caring nature. They are also emotional, touchy and extremely moody.
Cancerians are usually gentle and shy creatures. But, they can be tough and strong when the time arises. Just like their identifying symbol, the crab, these individuals are tough on the surface and gentle inside.
Similar to this constellation, the star system present in it is equally interesting. Astronomy is a wonderful science, and when combined with astrology and mythology, it becomes simply more fascinating!