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Fascinating Facts About the Lyra Constellation You Never Knew

Interesting Facts About the Lyra Constellation
For someone who has an avid interest in astronomy, gazing at constellations in the star-studded night sky certainly is a fascinating experience. UniverSavvy enumerates some interesting facts about the Lyra constellation.
Smita Pandit
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
Did You Know?
In 2013, using the Kepler Space Telescope, NASA's Kepler Mission discovered Kepler 62f, which is a small rocky planet that orbits a K2 dwarf star in the Lyra constellation.
The International Astronomical Union recognizes 88 constellations that cover the northern and southern sky. Basically, constellations are stellar groupings as seen from the Earth. They have a recognizable pattern. The names of many constellations are derived from mythology. The influence of the Greek and Roman cultures is quite evident when it comes to the names of several constellations. For instance, Lyra represents the lyre (harp) played by Orpheus, the musician of the Argonauts. It was known to the Romans as Vultur cadens, which means a 'falling vulture.' Lyra is one of the 48 constellations that was cataloged by Ptolemy in the second century.

Since the bright Vega star is a part of this constellation, it can be easily seen in the northern sky, by locating Vega. During summer, Vega can also be seen with Deneb and Altair, which in turn are the brightest stars in the constellations Cygnus and Aquila, respectively. These three stars form the Summer Triangle, which is an asterism, and not a constellation. Asterisms are recognizable star patterns that might be formed by stars present in different constellations. These could be a subset of stars in constellations.
Facts About the Lyra Constellation
✦ Occupying an area of 286 square degrees, Lyra is a small constellation. In terms of size, it features at the 52nd position in the list of 88 constellations.
✦ It is depicted as a small harp placed in the lap of a player.
Vega star and Lyra
Vega Star in Lyra
✦ As far as its shape is concerned, it appears like a small parallelogram made by four stars joined to the bright star, Vega. These four stars lie to the southeast of Vega, which is one of the major stars of the Lyra constellation that is about 25 light years away from the Earth.
✦ Lyrid meteor showers occur in the month of April every year, while the peak of the shower has been observed around April, 22. The meteors move outwards from a location in the sky. This location is referred to as the 'radiant', which lies in the Lyra constellation.
✦ Accounts of Lyrid showers have been recorded as far back as 687 BC. About 167 meteors were observed by a newspaper reporter, in 1803, in a short period of 15 minutes. Over 90 meteors were observed in an hour during the meteor shower of 1982.
Constellations Surrounding Lyra
Constellations surrounding Lyra
✦ This constellation is located between two constellations named Hercules and Cygnus. Other neighboring constellations include Draco and Vulpecula. Draco, Cygnus, Hercules, and Vulpecula lie to its north, south, east, and west, respectively.
✦ The Lyra constellation can be seen at latitudes between +90° and -40°.
✦ It comprises six stars called Alpha Lyrae (Vega), Beta Lyrae (Sheliak), Gamma Lyrae (Sulafat), Delta 2 Lyrae (Double Star), Epsilon (Double double), and Zeta Lyrae.
✦ Beta Lyrae was one of the first known variable stars that was discovered by an English astronomer named John Goodricke. He discovered it in 1784.
✦ If Vega is in the north-eastern sky, the other stars of the constellation are to the right of Vega. If Vega is in the northern or north-western sky, they are above it.
✦ In the Northern celestial hemisphere, this constellation is visible from the month of April to December.
✦ In the Southern celestial hemisphere, it can be observed low over the northern horizon during the month of August.
Ring Nebula in Lyra Constellation
Ring Nebula in Lyra
✦ A planetary nebula called Ring Nebula (Messier 57, NGC6720) is also a part of this constellation. It lies between Beta Lyrae (β Lyr.) and Gamma Lyrae (γ Lyr.). It is believed to be around 2,000 light years from the Earth. It was first recorded in the late 18th century. The 'smoke ring' is expelled from the dying white dwarf star at its center. This appears as a sphere of glowing gas.
✦ Lyra also contains another celestial object that is called Messier 56 or NGC6779.
✦ Beta Lyrae (Sheliak) is a binary or double star system that is around 1,000 light years away from Earth. The mass of the larger star of this system is around 13 times than that of the Sun, and the diameter is 30 times larger. The surface temperatures of this star are around 6 times than that of the Sun. It is around 25,000 times as luminous as the Sun.
✦ Also known as Sulafet, Gamma Lyrae is a blue giant star that is more than 600 light years from Earth. It is twice as hot as the Sun, and its diameter is around 15 times than that of the Sun.
✦ Lyra is a part of the largest family of constellations named after Hercules. This constellation family includes constellations such as Hercules, Sagitta, Aquila, Cygnus, Vulpecula, Hydra, Sextans, Crater, Corvus, Ophiuchus, Serpens, Scutum, Centaurus, Lupus, Corona Australis, Ara, Triangulum Australe, and Crux.
✦ The luminosity of a B-type bright giant, which is the main component of Gamma Lyrae, is around 2,100 times that of the Sun.
✦ The dimmest star in Lyra, Epsilon Lyrae (ε Lyr.), is a quadruple star that is about 162 light years away from Earth. If viewed through a binoculars, one would be able to see two stars. However, through a telescope, one can observe that each of these stars is a double star. Therefore, Epsilon Lyrae is also referred to as 'Double Double'.
In April and May, Lyra appears low on the horizon in the north-east direction at around 11 p.m., in areas of the Northern hemisphere, such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe. In the months of June and July, it can be observed in the east around 10 p.m., after which it moves higher till it is directly overhead. In the months of August and September, the constellation appears overhead around 10 p.m., after which it moves towards the horizon in the north-west direction. It is higher up in the west during 6 - 7 p.m., in the months of October, November, and December. Thereafter, it disappears below the horizon after a few hours. In the southern hemisphere, this constellation appears low on the northern horizon. It can be observed during July and August between 8 - 11 p.m.