Glossary term: Cancer

Description: Cancer is one of the constellations in the Zodiac, i.e. the stars that make up this constellation are in the part of the sky that intersects with the ecliptic (the plane defined by the Earth's path around the Sun). Hence, from Earth, we can regularly find the Sun, and also planets, in the constellation Cancer. In the case of the Sun this occurs from late July and early August (at that time, of course, we cannot see the constellation's stars). Two thousand years ago the Sun was in Cancer during the northern hemisphere summer solstice; this is the origin of the name of the Tropic of Cancer. Due to precession of the equinoxes, the Sun is no longer in Cancer on the northern hemisphere summer solstice. Cancer is one of the 88 modern constellations defined by the International Astronomical Union, but goes back much further – it was already one of the 48 constellations named by the 2nd century astronomer Claudius Ptolemy.

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Term and definition status: This term and its definition have been approved by a research astronomer and a teacher

The OAE Multilingual Glossary is a project of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Education (OAE) in collaboration with the IAU Office of Astronomy Outreach (OAO). The terms and definitions were chosen, written and reviewed by a collective effort from the OAE, the OAE Centers and Nodes, the OAE National Astronomy Education Coordinators (NAECs) and other volunteers. You can find a full list of credits here. All glossary terms and their definitions are released under a Creative Commons CC BY-4.0 license and should be credited to "IAU OAE".

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The curve of the Milky Way over a road. Bottom left, two bright stars form a line pointing to a kite-shaped stellar assembly

Most Brightest Stars of the Sky

Caption: Honourable mention in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.   Taken in March 2016 in Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java Island, Indonesia, this image shows the arch of the Milky Way and many prominent constellations, including many of the brightest stars in the night sky. In the lower-left corner, we see Rigil Kentaurus and Hadar, the first one lower and the other higher up, both located in the large constellation Centaurus. As pointers they point towards Crux, the Southern Cross, whose long axis points towards the southern pole, which is located roughly at the horizon because the Island of Java is almost at the equator. Crux is almost entirely obscured by clouds, with only the four bright stars visible in the photograph. Confusingly, the asterism of the False Cross (consisting of stars in Argo, The Ship) is clearly prominent a bit further up the Milky Way. The pinkish spot between the true and the False Cross is the Carina Nebula, located about 8500 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Carina, and invisible to the unaided eye. In Carina we can also find Canopus, the second-brightest star in the night sky, seen just below the Galaxy and above the road on the ground. Even brighter is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Sirius lies in the constellation Canis Major, The Great Dog, one of the dogs that follow Orion, the Hunter, who is depicted in the right half of this image, just above the clouds at the horizon. Orion’s Belt of three bright stars points to Sirius in the upper left and to Aldebaran in the lower right, just above the horizon. Orion contains some of the brightest stars in the sky, making it the most colourful constellation as it hosts Rigel, the bright bluish star below the Galaxy toward the right, and Betelgeuse, the reddish bright star higher up and to the right of Rigel. Between them we find the three stars that comprise the belt of Orion, a famous asterism. Just next to the belt we find the Great Orion Nebula, a star-forming region whose bright centre is visible to the unaided eye and also in this image. Above Betelgeuse but on the opposite side of the Galaxy, we see the bright star Procyon, whose name means literally “Before the Dog”. It is mythologically often considered a tiny one-star dog asterism accompanying Orion, and transformed into the modern constellation of Canis Minor. In the upper-right corner, the Beehive Star Cluster in the constellation Cancer is easily recognisable. Below it, we find the constellation Gemini with the stars Pollux and Castor, which are not prominent in this image. In contrast, the bright white star Capella in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer, shines through the clouds at the middle-right edge of the image. Some light pollution is visible along the road.
Credit: Giorgia Hofer/IAU OAE

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