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All shattered, low beneath her feet,
The cherished lyre's thrown;
The grief-wind o'er her soul hath swept,
And all the music's flown.
- The Broken Lyre (1863)
Lyra the Constellation
|Name:||Lyra (Latin: 'lyre')|
|Area:||286 sq deg|
|Co-ordinates1:||Right Ascension 19h, Declination +40°|
Lyra is one of the 48 constellations listed by Greek astronomer Ptolemy, and the 52nd of the modern 88. It is a relatively small constellation bordered by Draco, Cygnus and Vulpecula, with the massive Hercules sharing half of Lyra's borders. Lyra is notable for containing a first-magnitude star, two Messier catalogue objects and many extrasolar planets.
The lyre is a stringed instrument like a small harp. It was supposedly created from the shell of a tortoise or turtle by Hermes as a gift for Apollo, his half-brother. Apollo gave it to his son, Orpheus, who was a talented minstrel and one of the fabled Argonauts. Orpheus was a hopeless romantic who fell in love with a nymph named Eurydice, whom he married. They were very happy together until the demigod Aristaeus took a fancy to the lovely Eurydice. In her haste to escape his advances, Eurydice trod on a venomous snake which retaliated by biting her.
When she died, Orpheus was so distraught that he followed his wife on her journey through the Underworld. Once there he sang and played his lyre enchantingly, persuading Pluto, the god of the Underworld, with his charming verse to allow him to take Eurydice home. Orpheus was granted his wish on one condition, that he did not gaze upon Eurydice until they were above ground. Unfortunately Orpheus couldn't resist looking back to see if his wife was still following him, and she died a second time.
Faithful Orpheus swore he would never love another, and when some wild women of Thrace were rejected by him, they tore him apart in their jealous rage. His decapitated head, still singing its woeful lament, and the accompanying lyre ended up in the river Hebrus. The watching gods despatched the Muses to collect the body parts and bury them at Libethra. Above this grave the birds are heard to sing more sweetly than in any other part of Greece. When Orpheus reached the Underworld he sought out his beloved Eurydice; upon finding her they eagerly embraced. The lovers happily wander the Elysium Fields together, with Orpheus incurring no penalty for his loving gaze. Zeus, the king of the gods, paid tribute to the love of Orpheus and Eurydice by placing the lyre in the sky as a constellation.
In another story, Lyra is one of three birds hunted by Hercules, whose constellation is close by. The others were Aquila 'the Eagle' and Cygnus 'the Swan'. The group were identified with the Stymphalian Birds of Greek legend; the slaying of them was one of Hercules' 12 labours. Lyra was part of the vulture constellation of the ancient Egyptians, enjoying the protection of the goddess Ma'at. In Australian Aboriginal legend, Tyawan, a witch doctor, turns himself into a lyre bird to escape from a fearsome creature called the Bunyip, which still has the power to scare visitors to Australia even today!
The scientific star names are simple to understand (if you know your Greek alphabet). For example: 'alpha Lyrae' means that it is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra. The next brightest is designated 'beta', etc. Combined with the genitive name, this is known as the 'Bayer designation'. Some stars have proper names as well; for example, alpha Lyrae is Vega. Others are known by their catalogue number.
Stars in Lyra
Alpha Lyrae is a very well-known star called Vega, the first star ever to be photographed, on the night of 16 July, 1850, by JA Whipple. Vega is one of the three stars which forms the Summer Triangle, an asterism2 coined by Sir Patrick Moore. Vega is the 5th-brightest star of all at 0.03 magnitude and it has a protoplanetary (dust) disk. It is also known by other names: Dilgan 'Messenger of Light' (Babylonian), Tir-anna 'Life of Heaven' (Akkadian), Wega and 'the Harp Star'. Vega was the North Celestial Pole Star (pole position is cyclical) some 12,000 years ago and will be again in another 10,000 years. The temples at Abydos and Luxor in Egypt were aligned with this star.
Beta Lyrae, Sheliak, is a star system consisting of two stars; a white main sequence star and a less luminous blue-white dwarf star. The stars are a good example of a binary star system, meaning that they share a centre of gravity and appear to rotate around each other. The two stars in this particular system are so close to each other that they constantly pull each other out of shape, and we call this an eclipsing binary system.
|α Lyr||alpha Lyrae||Vega (swooping)||+0.03||25||Sometime 'pole' star|
|β Lyr||beta Lyrae||Sheliak (tortoise)||+3.3var||900||Evolving eclipsing binary stars|
|γ Lyr||gamma Lyrae||Sulaphat (turtle)||+3.24||635||Multiple star system|
|δ Lyr||delta Lyrae||11 Lyrae||+5.6||1,100||Binary star system|
|ε Lyr||epsilon Lyrae||4 Lyrae||+4.7 and +6.2||162||Double binary star system|
|ζ Lyr||zeta Lyrae||6 Lyrae||+4.34||154||White giant|
|η Lyr||eta Lyrae||Aladfar (the claws)||+4.4||1,042||Blue-white giant|
|θ Lyr||theta Lyrae||21 Lyrae||+4.35||770||Trinary star system|
|ι Lyr||iota Lyrae||18 Lyrae||+5.25||830||Blue-white subgiant|
|κ Lyr||kappa Lyrae||1 Lyrae||+4.33||238||Orange giant|
|λ Lyr||lambda Lyrae||15 Lyrae||+4.94||1,500||Orange giant|
|μ Lyr||mu Lyrae||Alathfar||+5.12||440||White giant|
|ν Lyr||nu Lyrae||9 Lyrae||+5.22||238||White giant|
|RR Lyr||RR Lyrae||HD 182989||+7.13||745||Prototype of the RR Lyrae variables|
|XY Lyr||XY Lyrae||HD 172380||+6.02||1,200||Pulsating red subgiant|
|Gliese 747AB||17 Lyr C||Kuiper 90||+9||135||Red dwarf binary system|
New General Catalogue (NGC)
The NGC was compiled by John Louis Emil Dreyer (the director of the Armagh Observatory from 1882 to 1916).
M56 (NGC 6779) is a globular cluster. Globular clusters are groups of stars which form a globe, or ball-shape. They are almost as old as the Milky Way itself, and can contain millions of stars. Charles Messier discovered the globular cluster in Lyra in 1779, but it lacked a central bright core, and Messier described it as a 'nebula without stars'. However, William Herschel correctly identified it as a low-emission globular cluster in 1784. The stars range between 11th and 14th magnitude, with an average of 15th mag for the brightest 25 stars. What makes this globular cluster special for fans of Douglas Adams is its girth: its radius has been measured at 42 light years.
In 1779 the French astronomer Antoine Darquier de Pellepoix (1718 - 1802) discovered the Ring Nebula, later catalogued as M57 and NGC 6720. It can be located between beta and gamma Lyrae. We now know the nebula, which is 500 times the size of our own Solar System, is cylindrical in shape.
|NGC 6779||M56||Globular cluster||+8.3||32,900||Radius 42ly|
|NGC 6720 (M57)||Ring Nebula||Planetary nebula||+8.8||4,000||Discovered in 1779 by
Antoine Darquier de Pellepoix
|NGC 6745||NGC 6745||Peculiar Galaxy||+10||200m||Cosmic trainwreck|
There have been many extrasolar planetary systems found in the constellation Lyra; the first was discovered in 1999. Figures given in the table below are the length of the planet's orbital period around its parent star, which we know of as a year. The mass of the extrasolar planet is compared to that of Jupiter, our Solar System's largest planet, known by astronomers as the 'Jovian scale'.
Extrasolar Planets Table
|Star name or
|Year of discovery||Comments|
|HD 177830||HD 177830 b||1.28||391||1999||Eccentric orbit|
|HD 177830||HD 177830 c||0.2||111||2007||Unpublished|
|HD 178911 B||HD 178911 Bb||6.3||71.5||2001||Lithium abundant|
|TrES-14||TrES-1 b||0.6||0.04||2004||Discovered by radial velocity method|
|HAT-P-5||HAT-P-5 b||1.06||2.8||2007||Hot Jupiter|
|WASP-3||WASP-3 b||1.76||1.84||2007||Hot Jupiter|
|HD 173416||HD 173416 b||2.7||323.6||2009||Gas giant|
|GJ 758||GJ 758 b||20||106,000||2009||Brown dwarf|
|Kepler-7||Kepler-7 b||0.43||4.88||2010||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-8||Kepler-8 b||0.6||3.52||2010||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-9||Kepler-9 b||0.25||19.24||2010||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-9||Kepler-9 c||0.17||38.9||2010||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-9||Kepler-9 d||0.02||1.59||2010||Hot super-Earth|
|WASP-58||WASP-58 b||0.89||5.02||2011||Hot Jupiter|
|Kepler-12||Kepler-12 b||0.43||4.4||2011||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-14||Kepler-14 b||8.4||6.8||2011||Hot Jupiter|
|Kepler-20||Kepler-20 b||0.027||3.7||2011||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-20||Kepler-20 c||0.05||10.85||2011||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-20||Kepler-20 d||0.06||77.6||2011||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-20||Kepler-20 e||0.0097||6.1||2011||Hot Venus|
|Kepler-20||Kepler-20 f||0.045||19.5||2011||Hot Earth|
|Kepler-24||Kepler-24 b||1.6||8.14||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-24||Kepler-24 c||1.6||12.33||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-25||Kepler-25 b||12.7||6.24||2012||Possible brown dwarf|
|Kepler-25||Kepler-25 c||4.16||12.7||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-26||Kepler-26 b||0.38||12.2||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-26||Kepler-26 c||0.375||17.25||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-27||Kepler-27 b||9.1||15.3||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-27||Kepler-27 c||13.8||31.3||2012||Possible brown dwarf|
|Kepler-28||Kepler-28 b||1.5||5.9||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-28||Kepler-28 c||1.36||8.99||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-30||Kepler-30 b||0.2||29.35.6||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-30||Kepler-30 c||9.1||60.3||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-30||Kepler-30 d||17||143||2012||Possible brown dwarf|
|Kepler-33||Kepler-33 b||0.16||5.6||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-33||Kepler-33 c||0.29||13.2||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-33||Kepler-33 d||0.48||21.7||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-33||Kepler-33 e||0.36||31.8||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-33||Kepler-33 f||0.4||41.03||2012||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-350||Kepler-350 c||0.0176||17.8||2013||Hot gas giant|
|Kepler-350||Kepler-350 d||0.048||26.1||2013||Hot gas giant|
Lyra/Lyre in Nature
There's a rather attractive variety of guppy called the lyre-tail.
Lyrebirds are so-named because of their distinctive tails, which resemble the musical instrument. Native to Australia, there are two distinct species: the Weringerong5 (Menura novaehollandiae) and the slightly smaller Albert's Lyrebird (Menura alberti) which was named in honour of Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria.
Lyra and Vega in Modern Culture
Kate Bush has released a song entitled 'Lyra'.
In the Star Trek universe there are many mentions of a human settlement cohabiting with native Vegans.
Chevrolet launched a 'Vega' model in 1971, but the star had an earlier car named after it, one of the most beautiful of the classic cars, the Facel Vega from the 1950s.
In the sci-fi novel and film Contact by Dr Carl Sagan, the extra-terrestrial message received by Earth hails from the Lyra constellation, specifically the Vegan solar system. The heroine of the story, Dr Ellie Arroway, even gets to travel there.
Lyra Belacqua is the heroine character in the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, the first volume of which is now a fantasy blockbuster movie called The Golden Compass starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig6, Sir Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Ian McShane, Derek Jacobi, Kathy Bates, Eva Green and Kristen Scott Thomas. Dakota Blue Richards (born 1994) won the role of Lyra over 10,000 other auditionees to star in her first acting role.