LYRA, the Lyre. (Pronounced LIR-rah)
This is one of the very old constellations, which represents the stringed musical instrument invented by Hermes in the Homeric myth. Hermes half-brother Apollo gave this harp like instrument, to Orpheus. The Greek astronomer Ptolemy in 150 AD assigned ten stars to the constellation. Lyra contains Vega, the fifth brightest star in the sky. Vega forms one corner of the northern hemisphere's famous "Summer Triangle" together with the bright stars Deneb and Altair.
Our Sun's motion around the Milky Way Galaxy is carrying it and the Solar System in the direction of Vega at a velocity of 20 km per second. Because of a slow wobble in Earth's axis called precession, Vega will be the northern pole star instead of the present Polaris in around 14,000 years.
To find this constellation look low to the north in the evening sky, and find the bright star Vega.
Chart showing Lyra and surrounding constellations, looking north at about 9.30 pm (NZST) mid August.
The horizon shown is for central New Zealand, latitude about 41.5°S.
Some stars and interesting objects in the Constellation
α Lyrae (Vega) is a close brilliant blue-white star 25 light years away, varying in brightness between magnitudes -0.02 and 0.07.
β Lyr (Sheliak) is a remarkable multiple star 882 light years away. Small telescopes easily resolve it as a double star with cream and blue components. The fainter blue star is of magnitude 7.8; the brighter star is an eclipsing binary that varies between magnitudes 3.4 and 4.3 every 12.93 days. The stars are very close, egg shaped from the mutual tidal action, and hot gas spirals off from them into space.
γ Lyr is a magnitude 3.22 blue-white star 635 light years away.
δ Lyr is a wide unaided eye, or binocular double, consisting of two unrelated stars. One is a magnitude 5.56 blue-white star 1080 light years away, while the other is a red giant star 899 light years away. This star varies between magnitudes 4.22 and 4.33. Both stars are also actual double stars as well.
ε Lyr is a celebrated quadruple star commonly called the double double, though speckle interferometry has shown that one of the pairs has a close companion, so this is actually a quintuple system. It is easily separated into two stars (magnitudes 4.7 and 5.1) by binoculars, or even keen eyesight, but in a telescope with high magnification, each star is seen to be double. The double systems are 160 and 162 light years away.
ζ Lyr is a pair of stars of magnitudes 4.32 and 5.59, 154 and 150 light years away. It is easily split in small telescopes or good binoculars.
η Lyr is a magnitude 4.5 blue-white star with a wide magnitude 11.1 companion, visible in small telescopes. It lies 1042 light years away.
RR Lyr is giant star 745 light years away, the prototype of an important class of variable stars used as 'Standard Candles' for measuring distances in space. It varies from magnitudes 7.06 to 8.12 every 0.57 days.
M 57 (NGC 6720) the Ring Nebula was described by John Herschel as 'gauze stretched over a hoop'. A comet passed by this planetary nebula in 1779 and led to its discovery by Messier. Long exposure photographs with large telescopes show it as a looking like a celestial smoke ring, but small telescopes show it as a noticeably elliptical misty disc. It is one of the brightest planetary nebula, appearing larger in the sky than the planet Jupiter.
Lyra is well north of the celestial Equator and so is always low from New Zealand. The entire constellation is visible from the North Island and the extreme north of the South Island. South of latitude 42° 24' south (Kaikoura and Greymouth), the most northerly parts of the constellation do not rise above the horizon. From Auckland, Vega culminates at 14° above the northern horizon. From Invercargill, the star has a maximum altitude of 4.5°.
From the latitude of New Zealand, Lyra can be seen to the north from early April to late September. In April it will be visible about an hour before sunrise, in September about an hour after sunset.