Observing Lyra the Harp Constellation

The Constellation Home to Vega

Lyra is an easy constellation to find. It is high overhead on summer nights, anchored by the bright star Vega. Vega is a 0.03 magnitude star and the fifth brightest star in all the sky or the second brightest star belonging to just the Northern Hemisphere. Vega is one of the three stars that make up the corners in the Summer Triangle. Vega lies only 25 light-years away.

Interesting Facts About the Lyra Constellation

Hanging beneath Vega is a parallelogram that makes up the body of the Lyre or stringed instrument. The two stars closest to Vega are the dimmer of the four. These two stars are both double stars. A third notable double lies just off to Vega’s north. The double star directly below Vega is Zeta Lyrae. The stars in this pair are magnitudes 4.34 and 5.73. They lie just 44 arcseconds from each other and 150 light-years away from us. A good pair of binoculars may be able to split the pair; a telescope works better. The next double star in the parallelogram is Delta 1 and 2 Lyrae. The brighter star is magnitude 4.22 and the dimmer is magnitude 5.58. They lie 10 arcminutes from each other and are easily split in binoculars. The Delta 1 and 2 stars lie 1,080 and 898 light-years away, respectively. The last double hovering around Vega is Epsilon Lyrae, also known as the “Double Double.” Epsilon 1 lies three and a half arcminutes from Epsilon 2. If you view this double through a telescope, each double will reveal its own double star, making it a quadruple star system. The four stars lie about 160 light-years away. The Epsilon 1 stars are magnitudes 4.7 and 6.2, and the Epsilon 2 stars are magnitudes 5.1 and 5.5.

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Continuing on down to the bottom of the parallelogram we find the stars Beta Lyrae, or Sheliak, and Sulafat, or Gamma Lyrae. Sulafat is the star farthest from Vega and it shines at magnitude 3.25 at a distance of 635 light-years. Sheliak is the last star in the parallelogram and – surprise! – it is also a double star. The main star is magnitude 3.52 and its companion is magnitude 7.14. This eclipsing binary can be split in large telescopes.

Two Messier objects reside in Lyra. The first is M57, the Ring Nebula. This planetary nebula is one of the most observed objects of its type in the sky. It shines at magnitude 9.0 and is easily found between the bottom two stars of the parallelogram. Use a telescope to catch its oval glow.

A little more than halfway from Sulafat, the bottom star in the parallelogram, and Albireo, the bright double star at the end of Cygnus, you will find M56, a loose globular cluster. M56 is a magnitude 8.3 galactic grouping of the Milky Way lying almost 33,000 light-years away.

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