The constellation Lyra with the bright star Vega, the Double Double to Lyra's left, and the parallelogram below. Credit: Scott Roy Atwood
The constellation Lyra, representing the stringed musical instrument of the lyre, is home to meteor showers and many double stars. Lyra is a constellation easily viewed all summer long. Its brightest star, Vega, is one of the three points in the asterism known as the summer triangle.
There are two decent meteor showers that appear to emanate from the direction of Lyra, one in April and one in June. The June event occurs between June 10 and 21, with the activity peaking from the 15th to the 16th. Meteor showers are at their best when the moon is near new phase. A full moon adds so much light to the night sky that it washes out the fainter meteors. Fortunately, this June’s Lyrid shower occurs just after new moon. Look to the east where Lyra is rising as the sky darkens. The June Lyrids are not a particularly active shower, with only about 10 meteors per hour at peak.
As long as you are out stargazing, take a closer look at the constellation Lyra. Lyra is home to a large number of double stars that can be split with binoculars or a telescope.
Lyra is recognizable with brilliant Vega beside a parallelogram of stars. The two stars in the parallelogram closest to Vega, Zeta and Delta Lyrae, are both double stars. The star closest to Vega is Zeta Lyrae. Its two components of magnitude 4.34 and 5.73 can be difficult to split because they reside just 44 arcseconds apart. Delta 1 and 2 Lyrae are easier to split because they lie at a wider 10 arcminutes apart. Delta 1 Lyrae is magnitude 4.22 and and Delta 2 Lyrae is magnitude 5.58.
At similar magnitude to Zeta and about the same distance away from Vega is the star Epsilon Lyrae, known as the Double Double. Epsilon Lyrae is not a part of the parallelogram but still easy to find. The two main components of Epsilon are Epsilon 1 and 2, lying 3.5 arcminutes apart. Closer inspection of this double star through a telescope will show that each star is also a double star, thus earning it the moniker the Double Double. The four members of this star system lie 160 light-years from us, with the brightest at magnitude 4.7 and the dimmest at magnitude 6.2.
Scan the other stars of Lyra and see how many other doubles you can find. For other deep-sky targets in Lyra, read this article for observing tips to find the Ring Nebula and a globular cluster.
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Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy