[link to earthsky.org]
In ancient Chaldean and Platonic philosophy, Cancer was called the Gate of Men. It was through this portal that souls descend from the heavens above and into the bodies of the newly born.
Around 2700 years ago, the sun passed in front of the Beehive cluster on the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice. Back then, this cluster stood at the apex of the Zodiac, so perhaps it was this heavenly nebulosity that marked the Gate of Men. At present, the sun has its annual conjunction with the Beehive cluster in late July or early August.
In olden times, before the advent of light pollution, the ancients referred to the Beehive as the Praesepe (“little cloud”). The Roman author Pliny reports that when the Praesepe is invisible in an otherwise clear sky, it’s a sure sign of impending storm. Yes, the Beehive cluster once served as a celestial weather station.
Although Cancer may be the faintest constellation of the Zodiac, its legacy remains intact. On a dark, moonless night, look for Cancer’s faint grouping of stars to spring out in between the more conspicuous constellations Gemini and Leo.