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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 17:24 EDT

Lyra Constellation

Lyra Constellation — Lyra (the lyre) is a prominent, although fairly small, northern constellation. It was one of Ptolemy’s 48 constellations, and also counts among the modern 88 constellations.

Its brightest star is Vega (Alpha Lyrae), which together with Altair (Alpha Aquilae) and Deneb (Alpha Cygni) forms the large asterism known as the Summer Triangle.

Beta Lyr is a half separated (i.e. one of the stars reached its Rochevolume) eclipsing binary of a cream-white colour. The brightness varies from 3.4 mag to 4.3 mag every twelve days and 22 hours. With larger telescopes beta Lyr is resolved as an attractive double star with an blue companion of 8th mag. Additionally two other 9th mag companions can be seen in small telescopes).

Another double variable is delta Lyr. With the help of binoculars you can view a blue-white star of 6th mag and a semi-regular red giant. The brightness of the latter varies erratically from 4th to 5th magnitude.

An easy object with binoculars or small telescopes is zeta Lyr consisting of a 4th and a 6th mag star.

One of the most celebrated quadruple stars in the sky is epsilon Lyr. It is commonly known as the Double Double. In a very clear, moonless night it is possible to see the wide pair of 5th mag stars.

Each star of this double is an double itself. But to resolve them a telescope with at least 60 mm aperture and a high magnification is needed.

The binary a 11871 requires telescopes with an aperture of at least 12cm for resolution. The two stars orbit each other with a period of 62 years.

The famous Ring Nebula, M 57, is perhaps somewhat disappointing when viewed through amateur telescopes but really terrific on long-exposure photographs. In small telescopes it presents itself on dark nights as a ghostly elliptical disk. Its apparent size is larger than that of Jupiter. To see the central hole a telescope of at least 150 mm aperture is needed.

The central, very blue star is so faint that it is beyond the power of amateur telescopes to be revealed. The nebula can be found half way between beta Lyr and gamma Lyr.

Three meteor showers seem to radiate from this constellation: the Lyrids, the June Lyrids and the Alpha Lyrids. The latter two are active in the summer time. The Alpha Lyrids are visible from july, 9th, to july, 20th, and reach their maximum activity on the 14th of july.

As the name suggests the June Lyrids can be observed in june, from the 10th to the 21st reaching the maximum on the 15th with an hourly rate of about 8 meteors.

The Lyrids are typically visible from April, 16th, to April 25th, with its maximum around the 20th to 21st. Detailed information can be found in Gary Kronk’s database about meteor showers.

Mythological Background

Lyra is thought to represent the harp of Orpheus.
On older skymaps Lyra ist represented as a bird: Vultur, the Vulture. Together with the Cygnus, the Swan, and Aquila, the Eagle, it is hunted by Hercules.

Another story says that Mercury invented the lyre by placing strings across the back of a tortoise shell. So sometimes in early descriptions this constellation is also drawn as a tortoise.

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Lyra Constellation