Description and General Notes
Lyra is one of three great northern summer constellations, the others being Cygnus and Aquila. The brightest stars from each constellation form a very obvious asterism, the "Summer Triangle," which dominates the sky during the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere.
As Lyra is one of the older constellations it has an associated story from Greek mythology: it is supposed to be the Lyre which Orpheus played as he tried to rescue his wife Eurydice from Hades. Orpheus was a great musician whose wife Eurydice was bitten by snakes and died. Unable to bear her death, he entered Hades and petitioned Pluto, the God of the Underworld, to release her. Pluto agreed, but told Orpheus he must lead his wife back to the living world by playing continuously as he walked out of Hades, luring her spirit to follow through the beauty of his playing. But this was a boon which appears to have been based on both the beauty of his music and in the confidence of his playing, and he was told he must always look forward to the way out of Hades. Alas for Orpheus -- he looked back to see if Eurydice was following, and in looking back doomed Eurydice and she returned to Hades, to be lost to Orpheus for as long as he lived. Orpheus supposedly abandoned the love of women and the worship of the god Dionysius as a result of this redoubled loss, and devoted himself thereafter to the worship of Apollo and either lived a celibate life or took up a homosexual lifestyle. There are various conflicting stories about Orpheus' adventures thereafter, but most of them end with Orpheus being torn apart by the Maenads, followers of Dionysius, who were either angered by his rejection of Dionysius or by his rejection of the Maenads themselves as sexual partners. In death Orpheus would have been reunited with Eurydice, but his harp was taken up by the Muses and placed among the stars.
In Burnham's Celestial Handbook (you do own a copy, don't you?) mention is made of a Chinese legend linking Lyra and Aquila. In one version of this legend, the stars Vega and Altair are, respectively, the Weaving Girl and the Herd Boy, two young lovers who neglect their duties and are punished by being placed on different sides of the River of Stars (the western "Milky Way"). The other stars of Lyra form the Weaving Girl's loom, while two bright stars of Aquila are the children of the Girl and the Herd Boy. Once a year the Girl may meet her Herd Boy: on the seventh day of the seventh moon of each year, providing the weather is fine, the two banks of the River are connected by a Bridge of Birds. If the weather fails to cooperate, the Girl weeps, and her tears fall to the earth as rain.
The brightest star of the constellation is Vega (or sometimes "Wega"), and is the fifth brightest star in the sky.
M57 is a small but beautiful nebula which in visual light appears as a small blue ring.
RR Lyra is the prototype of a class of variable stars.
More to come...