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Beehive cluster

an open star cluster in the center of the constellation Cancer, visible to the naked eye.
an open cluster of several hundred stars in the constellation Cancer, visible to the naked eye as a hazy patch of light

loose (“open”) star cluster (M44) in Cancer, from Latin praesaepe the Roman name for the grouping, literally “enclosure, stall, manger, hive,” from prae- (see pre-) + saepire “to fence” (see septum).

It is similar to the Hyades but more distant, about 600 light-years away, consists of about 1,000 stars, mostly older, the brightest of them around magnitude 6.5, thus not discernable to the naked eye even on the clearest nights, but their collective light makes a visible fuzz of glow that the ancients likened to a cloud (the original nebula); Galileo was the first to resolve it into stars (1609). The modern name for it in U.S. and Britain, Beehive, seems no older than 1840. Greek names included Nephelion “Little Cloud” and Akhlys “Little Mist.” “In astrology, like all clusters, it threatened mischief and blindness” [Allen].

“Manger” to the Romans perhaps by influence of two nearby stars, Gamma and Delta Cancri, dim and unspectacular but both for some reason figuring largely in ancient astrology and weather forecasting, and known as “the Asses” (Latin Aselli), supposedly those of Silenus.


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