Lyra Constellation

Lyra (pronounced lie-rah) is a small but prominent constellation in the northern summer sky. The shape resembles the harp or lyre string instrument and is associated with the myth of the Greek musician Orpheus.

Lyra Constellation

It contains the bright star Vega, also known as Alpha Lyrae, which is one of the brightest stars in the entire night sky. It forms one corner of the Summer Triangle asterism and one corner of a much smaller triangle within the constellation Lyra, along with Epsilon and Zeta Lyrae.

It is boarded by the constellations Draco, Hercules, Vulpecula, and Cygnus.

Lyra Constellation according to the IAU

Constellation Details

Symbolism: Harp/Lyre
Brightest Star: Vega
Number of stars: 25 total, 6 main stars
Size:  286 square degees
Right Ascension: 18h 14m to 19h 28m
Declination: 25.66° to 47.71°

Constellation Stars

There are six main stars that form the shape of the constellation:

  • Alpha Lyrae (Vega)
  • Epsilon Lyrae
  • Zeta Lyrae
  • Delta Lyrae
  • Gamma Lyrae (Sulafat)
  • Beta Lyrae (Sheliak)

The parallelogram representing the main part of the constellation is formed by Delta Lyrae, Zeta Lyrae, Gamme Lyrae, and Beta Lyrae. The stars Epsilon, Zeta Lyrae and Alpha Lyrae (Vega) make up the small triangle. 

Vega is significantly brighter than most other stars, making it easily visible to the naked eye.

Its brightness and its role in forming the Summer Triangle make it a popular star among stargazers and amateur astronomers. Vega was also the pole star in the year 12,000 BCE and will become the pole star again around 14,000 CE.

Epsilon Lyrae is a famous double star system, referred to as the ‘Double Double’. It is a multiple-star system containing two visible stars that appear to be double stars for a total of four stars.

There are also three double-star systems in the constellation, including Zeta Lyrae, Beta Lyrae, and Delta Lyrae. 

Lyra Constellation

Summer Triangle

The star Vega is part of the Summer Triangle, which is a useful celestial landmark in the summer night sky.

This large and easily recognizable asterism in the shape of a triangle is formed by three bright stars including:

  • Vega in Lyra
  • Deneb in Cygnus
  • Altair in Aqualia

Asterisms are recognizable and helpful patterns in the night sky that are not considered official constellations

When Can you see the Lyra Constellation?

The summer months are the best time to look for the constellation Lyra, as it will be high in the night sky and in the early evening hours throughout most of the night. 

The months of June, July, and August offer the best views, though you can see Lyra from late spring through early autumn.

In late May, you can start to see Lyra rising in the eastern sky after sunset and in September it gradually shifts lower in the western sky as you approach late autumn. 

How to Find the Lyra Constellation

Though Lyra is a small constellation it is fairly easy to find by looking overhead on summer evenings. 

This is because the bright star Vega sits close to the zenith, or the highest point of the celestial sphere. 

Once you find Vega, let your eye adjust to the darkness before locating a distinctive parallelogram shape that sits below a small triangle of stars. This is the main part of the Lyra constellation.

A stargazing or planetarium app can help you locate the constellation.

Meteor Showers

The Lyrids meteor shower takes place each year from April 16 – April 25, with the peak of the shower happening on or around April 22. Though this meteor shower happens annually in late April, the peak time may vary by a day depending on the year.

The Lyrids meteor shower produces anywhere from 5 to 20 meteors per hour, averaging 10.

Lyrid Meteor Shower

The radiant point for the Lyrid Meteor Shower in April. 

The name ‘Lyrids’ comes from Lyra, the constellation which the meteor shower appears to originate from. This serves as a guide to help you locate the radiant point, though the meteors can be visible in any part of the sky. 

In addition to the meteor shower in April, there are two additional meteor showers associated with Lyra. They are the June Lyrids and the Alpha Lyrids.

Deep-sky Objects in the Lyra Constellation

This constellation contains two Messier objects:

  • Messier 56 (M56, NGC 6779): is a globular cluster with an apparent magnitude of 8.3. Though it lies at a distance of 32,900 light-years from Earth, it is relatively easy to find. It sits roughly halfway along the line between the stars Albireo in Cygnus and Sulafat (Gamma Lyrae).
  • Messier 57 (M57, NGC 6720): also known as the Ring Nebula, is a popular and easily observable planetary nebula. The nebula’s appearance is similar to a smoke ring, as a dying star sheds its outer layers leaving behind a central white dwarf. As a popular object to observe in the night sky, it shines at a magnitude 9.0 from roughly 2,300 light-years away.

Ring Nebula

The Ring Nebula in Lyra. Trevor Jones. 

It also includes interesting, yet not as popular deep-sky objects, such as:

  • NGC 6745: an irregular galaxy that is really a triplet of galaxies. These galaxies have been colliding and merging for hundreds of millions of years. With an apparent magnitude of 13.3, it is roughly 206 million light-years from Earth.

Lyra Constellation Mythology

The constellation Lyra is associated with several myths and stories from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. Its name and shape are linked to the musical instrument known as a harp or lyre, which played a prominent role in the mythological tales.

Perhaps the most famous myth is the story of Orpheus, a musician and poet in Greek mythology. At a young age, he was given a golden lyre by the god Apollo who taught him to play it. He eventually became a talented musician and his playing had an enchanting quality. 

After Orpheus’s death, it was said that his lyre was placed in the sky by the gods. This formed the constellation Lyra, as a tribute to his musical talents and his tragic love story with Eurydice.

Lyra Greek Mythology

Lyra with Lacerta, Cygnus, and Vulpecula. Sidney Hall, Urania’s Mirror, 1824. Wikipedia.

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