The Lyra constellation representing a ‘lyre’ which is a harp like instrument from ancient Greece. Vega the brightest star is prominent and easy to locate and forms part of the Summer Triangle asterism. The constellation is small and relatively easy to recognise once Vega has been identified. The form of the constellation is simple and therefore easy to form but not very inspiring. The constellation is alongside Cygnus and with both have a bright prominent star are easily identified together. Because it appears between 30 and 40 degrees north in the celestial sky it appears high in the sky for most northern hemisphere viewers.
The Lyra constellation is one of the original 48 constellations listed by the Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy, who lived under Roman rule in Alexandria in the 2nd century. These constellations formed the basis for the modern list agreed by the IAU. Constellations from the southern hemisphere, unable to be seen from the Mediterranean, represent the majority of additions to the list.
As the earth moves in its orbit around the sun, each night you are looking at a different portion of the sky. When looking at stars it is important to be aware of what is within your view. Northern hemisphere stargazers can group constellations into 3 groups; circumpolar, summer and winter constellations. The circumpolar constellations are in the north sky, appear to move around the north star and are visible throughout the year. The constellations in the south sky are only visible for part of the year and are grouped as either summer or winter constellations. Each is visible from between 4 to 10 months.
It is important to be aware of the specific time of year and hour of the night when deciding what to look for. These pages below show the constellations in each group so you can find the constellations that interest you.
CIRCUMPOLAR (year around) – Ursa Major – Cassiopeia – Ursa Minor – Draco – Cepheus
WINTER – Pegasus – Pisces – Aries – Auriga – Taurus – Orion – Canis Major – Canis Minor – Gemini – Lynx – Cancer – Leo – Winter Hexagon
SUMMER – Virgo – Libra – Scorpius – Bootes – Hercules – Lyra – Ophiuchus – Sagittarius – Aquila – Cygnus – Capricornus – Aquarius – Summer Triangle
Or use this guide to easily see which constellations are easiest to find right now:
Lyra Quick Facts:
Symbolism: Lyre (ancient harp)
Neighbouring constellations: Cygnus (east), Hercules (west), Draco (north)
Brightest star: Vega, +0.03 magnitude (5th brightest star in the night sky)
Stars brighter than 3 magnitude: 1
Primary stars: 6 (4 stars in a diamond attached to a triangle in a figure 8 shape)
Latitude: 30 degrees north – 40 degrees south
Northern Hemisphere Season: Summer (January – December)
Which months can you see Lyra constellation?
Lyra constellation can be seen from most of the year at some time in the northern hemisphere night but can be found high in the sky at 21:00 during the month of August:
- Early evening viewers (before 21:00) can find the constellation from June in the eastern sky until December in the western sky. Lyra constellation will be visible overhead in September.
- Mid evening viewers (21:00-23:30) can find the constellation from May in the eastern sky until November in the western sky. Lyra constellation will be visible overhead in August.
- Late evening viewers (after 23:30) can find the constellation from March in the eastern sky until October in the western sky. Lyra will be visible overhead in June – July.
- Early morning viewers can find the constellation from January in the eastern sky to July in the western sky. Lyra will be visible overhead in April.
As time passes the constellation will gradually appear earlier in the night with ranges below showing the window of opportunity in each month. Lyra constellation sits between 30 – 40 degrees north latitude. Therefore, the further south your position the further north it will appear in the sky. At its maximum range it is possible to see Lyra at latitudes between +90 and -50.
Best time to see Lyra constellation:
Best visible at 21:00 in August
January: visible on the eastern horizon before sunrise from 03:30. It will reach 35 degrees above the north east horizon by sunrise.
February: visible on the eastern horizon before sunrise from 01:30. It will reach 55 degrees above the north east horizon by sunrise.
March: appear on the eastern horizon at 00:00. It will reach 70 degrees above the north east horizon by sunrise.
April: appear on the eastern horizon at 22:30. It will reach its peak 80 degrees above the northern horizon by sunrise.
May: appear on the eastern horizon at 21:00, reaching its peak 80 degrees above the northern horizon at 04:00. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 70 degrees above the north west horizon.
June: 25 degrees above the north east horizon at sunset, reaching its peak 80 degrees above the northern horizon at 02:00. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 50 degrees above the north west horizon. Making it is visible throughout the night.
July: 50 degrees above the north east horizon at sunset, reaching its peak 80 degrees above the northern horizon at 23:30. It will continue moving west until sunrise when it will be 25 degrees above the north west horizon. Making it is visible throughout the night.
August: 65 degrees above the north east horizon at sunset, reaching its peak 80 degrees above the northern horizon at 21:30. It will continue moving west until 04:30 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the north west horizon.
September: 80 degrees above the north east horizon at sunset, reaching its peak 80 degrees above the northern horizon at 19:30. It will continue moving west until 02:30 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the north west horizon.
October: 75 degrees above the north west horizon at sunset. It will continue moving west until 01:30 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the western horizon.
November: 60 degrees above the north west horizon at sunset. It will continue moving west until 22:30 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the south west horizon.
December: 35 degrees above the south west horizon at sunset. It will continue moving west until 19:30 when it will begin to be only partially visible on the south west horizon.
Trajectory: The constellation is between 30 – 40 degrees north which means that for those in low latitudes of the northern hemisphere it will pass overhead. For those in higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere it will appear high in the southern sky for a shorter time each night. Its peak trajectory in Wadi Rum is 80 degrees above the northern horizon from April through September.
Not the right time for Lyra constellation? Have a look what constellations you can see tonight.
How to find Lyra constellation?
Vega the brightest star in this area of the sky and one of the stars that form the Summer Triangle is the star that needs to be identified to find Lyra.
Identifying with the Summer Triangle
The Summer Triangle is a prominent asterism in the night sky throughout summer for northern hemisphere viewers. It is useful to be familiar with and helps locate many constellations throughout summer. The triangle links the 3 bright stars of Altair, Deneb and Vega in the constellations of Aquila, Cygnus, Lyra respectively.
Vega is the brightest star, while the other 2 stars are within the band of the milky way. They are the three brightest star in this area of the sky and are prominent and easy to identify. Altair the second brightest star and is furthest west. Once the Summer Triangle is identified it is useful as a reference for direction in the summer sky. The line between Deneb and Altair runs roughly north-south with Deneb to the north and Altair to the south.
Learn how to form the shape of Lyra constellation
With the Summer Triangle identified and the brightest star of Vega recognised, you can begin to outline the form of Lyra. The other stars within Lyra are in the direction of Altair, the star to the south of the Summer Triangle.
The Lyra constellation is a diamond shape with a triangle shape at one end. The diamond is in fact more of a parallelogram being elongated towards Altair. For some amateur stargazers it is helpful to envisage the constellation as a diamond ring. The parallelogram or diamond is the ring and the triangle represents the diamond in a 2D view. Vega the prominent bright star is in the corner of the diamond, which is said to represent it sparkling. However you prefer to imagine it the shape is a triangle attached to a parallelogram starting at Vega and moving towards Altair. The entire constellation is small and is less than one quarter the distance to Altair for the furthest star.
The triangle shape:
- Vega is the starting point to form the constellation
- There is a nearby star in the direction of Deneb that forms the second corner of the Triangle. Because Vega is very bright and the constellation is small it is the closest visible star to Vega in the direction of Deneb for many viewers.
- Similarly there is a nearby star in the direction of Altair that marks the third corner of the triangle. The 3 stars in the triangle are all very close to each other and equidistant apart.
The parallelogram or diamond shape:
- Continuing towards Altair along one side of the triangle will lead to the next star that forms the parallelogram. The distance is similar to the distance between the stars in the triangle portion of the constellation.
- The next star can be traced along the other axis of the triangle in the general direction of Altair. This time move twice the distance of that between the stars in the triangle portion of the constellation.
- The final star in the constellation is further in the direction of Altair and is parallel to both lines just formed. It can be located by moving from either of the last identified stars in a line parallel to the other star identified. This should close the parallelogram and form the constellation
The shape of the Lyre:
- The parallelogram shape reflects the stringed section to play the instrument and the triangular section is the handle where the player holds the instrument. However as with the harp there is not a standard shape for the instrument.
Lyra constellation in the Ancient World
Ancient Greek mythology
Lyra represents the lyre (a harp like instrument popular in ancient Greece) of Orpheus. Orpheus was a famous musician in Greek mythology. His music was so impressive that even inanimate objects would be moved by it. The lyre was made by Hermes from a tortoise shell. Orpheus took his lyre to support Jason and the Argonauts to quell the sirens who would otherwise lead them astray with their beauty and song.
Orpheus’ wife Eurydice was killed by a snake bite and he entered the underworld and charmed Hades with his lyre. Hades agreed that they could leave together provided they did not look back on their departure. Orpheus could not resist the temptation and Eurydice was returned to the underworld.
Orpheus spent the rest of his life roaming aimlessly playing his lyre. The beauty of his music drew many marriage proposals but he rejected them all. Finally the jealous women grouped together and turned against Orpheus and stoned him to death.
Main stars in Aquila constellation
Vega (+0.03m, 25ly, 13 suns, #5)
Vega is a Greek pronunciation from the Arabic for ‘falling’ from the phrase ‘the falling eagle’. It is the 5th brightests star with an apparent magnitude of +0.03. The distance from earth is 25 light years. It is 13 times the size of the sun. Vega represents one point of the triangle section of the instrument
Sulafat (+3.25m, 620ly, 3,700 suns, #222)
Sulafat is from the Arabic for ‘turtle’. It is the 222nd brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +3.25. The distance from earth is 620 light years. It is more than 3,700 times the size of the sun. Sulafat represents the far point if the diamond section of the instrument.
Sheliak (+3.45m, 960ly, multi star system, #272)
Sheliak is the Arabic name for the constellation as a ‘vulture’ which has been adopted for the star. It is the 272nd brightest star with an apparent magnitude of +3.45. The distance from earth is 960 light years. It is a multistar system with a triple star and another star with 5 components. Sheliak is one point of the diamond portion of the instrument.
Deep Sky Objects
Ring Nebula – Messier object 57 which appears with a green core and red outer ring.
Wadi Rum is one of the best locations in the world to see the full beauty of the stars. Combining high altitudes, clear skies and no light pollution. You may be surprised how many stars are visible to the naked eye. Come with us and spend a night under the stars.