Night Sky

Getting to know Cancer the crab

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With the summer season officially upon us, there's no better time than now to take a look at Cancer the crab.

In the astrological zodiac, the sun moved from the air sign of Gemini into the water sign of Cancer on Tuesday (June 20). The sun will work its way through the astrological sign from now until about July 22. That's called its transit. When people talk about their "sign," they're usually talking about the position of the sun in the zodiac when they were born.

Cancer is surrounded in the 12-sign zodiac by Gemini to the west and Leo to the east. However, in modern, science-backed astronomy, Cancer is one of 88 constellations that make up the celestial map of the sky.

Cancer is considered one of the darkest constellations in night sky. For one, the constellation has few stars. Only five stars make up the asterism, the group of stars that form the skeleton of what we know as the crab. Furthermore, the stars that are there - including the south and north donkeys, Asellus Astralis and Asellus Borealis, respectively - just aren't that bright.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Cancer constellation is what's known as the beehive, or Praesepe, a dense cluster of hundreds if not thousands of stars. The beehive looks like a hazy, soft-edged cloud near the center of Cancer. The constellation is also home to a distant binary star system of two white dwarf stars that are orbiting each other at a distance about one-fifth of that between Earth and our moon, according to NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Cancer is represented by the crab. Throughout history, however, the lobster and other such crustaceans were the face of this constellation. Mythologically, the crab Karkinos was sent by Hera to hinder Hercules in his famous and famously difficult 12 labors. Karkinos bit his toes, but was crushed and tossed into the sky, where the crab now lives in the zodiac.

Astrologically, Cancer carries the traits of the crab - tenacious and ready to defend its home, yet utterly sensitive to the internal tides of emotions. Folks born with the sun in Cancer deeply understand what, why and how people feel what they do. As a water sign, maintaining healthy boundaries is a constant and worthwhile challenge for the Cancer.

The sun entered Cancer this week, heralding the summer solstice, which, among other distinctions, is the longest day of the year. Enjoy the sunshine, but go ahead and linger outside at night a while to enjoy the stars, too.

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