The Chaldeans first gave the name Cancer to this group of stars which they claimed represented a crab. They felt that a crab, which walks backwards, typifies the sun's motion when it is in this area of the zodiac. During this time. We refer to the 23.5 N latitude as the Tropic of Cancer as it marks the northernmost point at which the sun is directly overhead at noon. The Greeks refer to Cancer as being the crab sent by Hera to attack Hercules while he was battling the nine-headed monster Hydra. The little crab bit Hercules' toes and was crushed in the end. In honor of its bravery, Hera placed it in the sky. M44, the Beehive cluster in the center of Cancer has an interesting history in weather forecasting. Pliny the Elder wrote that "if Praesepe is not visible in a clear sky, it foretells the coming of a violent storm." This simply meant that a turbulent atmosphere makes seeing dim objects more difficult, and such an atmosphere often precedes a storm.

For the Observer

The Stars of Spring

M44 (NGC 2632) the Beehive Cluster( 8h 37m .5 +19° 52' ) also known as Praesepe is visible to the unaided eye under dark skies. It is an open cluster of about 350 stars of magnitude 17 or better. The cluster looks good in binoculars or small telescopes. In large telescopes, use low power to fully appreciate the cluster. Some of the stars show a blue color.

Copyright © 1995 - 2003
Kathy Miles, Author, and Chuck Peters, Systems Administrator