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The Constellation Lyra, the Harp
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Lyra

Lyra, the Lyre, is a type of small harp held in the player's lap. The brightest star in Lyra, Vega, is placed in the handle of the harp. A small parallelogram of four faint stars just to the southeast of Vega outline the harp itself. Lyra is one of three constellations whose brightest stars form the Summer Triangle.

Though small, Lyra has a variety of sights to offer. Between the two parallelogram stars furthest from Vega is the Ring Nebula, one of the brightest of planetary nebulae. It can be viewed with binoculars, although it's distinctive smoke-ring shape cannot. A famous and well-studied variable star, RR Lyrae is the prototype for it's class. Over a period of about 13 hours, the star dims by more than a factor of two and then returns to it's initial brightness. RR Lyrae stars are old stars and are often found in globular clusters.

The name Vega means "vulture" in Arabic and reminds us that the civilizations of the Middle East saw these stars as a vulture. According to Greek mythology, the lyre was invented by Hermes as a child when he strung a tortoise shell. He traded the lyre to Apollo, who then gave it to his son, Orpheus, a great poet and musician. Some Asian traditions see the bright star Vega as the Weaving-Princess star who marries a shepherd, the star Altair.

The Lyrid meteor shower happens in April each year. The meteors in the Lyrid meteor shower seem to shoot outward from a point (called the shower's "radiant") in the constellation Lyra.


Last modified March 29, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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