Starwatch: look high to find Lyra's musical charm

Stuart Clark


Vega in Lyra

Lyra is a small, rather faint constellation in the northern hemisphere, saved from obscurity by the beautiful star Vega. Shining with a brilliant white light, Vega is the fifth brightest star in the sky and lies just 25 light years away from Earth. It is unmistakable in the northern sky at this time of year. The chart shows its position at midnight tonight. To find Vega, look high in the east, just over halfway between the horizon and the zenith; it will be unmistakable. The constellation itself hangs below the star and should be easy to pick out as it traces the shape of a parallelogram. It represents a lyre, the musical instrument of Orpheus, who played the instrument ceaselessly for comfort following the death of his wife Eurydice. Upon Orpheus’s death, Zeus placed the instrument in the stars, while Orpheus’s bones were buried by the muses. Although the constellation is often seen as a musical instrument, not all cultures imagine this. In Indigenous Australian astronomy, the constellation represents a Malleefowl bird.