The constellation of Lyra, the Lyre, is currently at its best visibility for the year. A small constellation, it appears low on the northern horizon around midnight for those in Australia, but will be almost overhead for the majority of observers in the northern hemisphere.
Lyra contains several objects of interest. First of all, there’s Vega, the fifth brightest star in the sky and, at about 25 light years away, one of the closest to the Earth.
Close to brilliant Vega is Epsilon Lyrae, the famous “Double Double” star. To the naked eye, it appears as a single star, but when viewed through binoculars, observers are able to see a pair of equally bright, white stars. However, the real magic happens when a telescope is pointed toward the pair. Under a magnification of about 100x or higher, each star is again split in two, with all four stars being of almost equal brightness.
M57 is the famous Ring Nebula. The nebula can be seen with small telescopes but you’ll need a magnification of about 150x to see the ring shape. (Try looking at it out of the corner of your eye – this is called “averted vision.”) It looks like a tiny smoke ring in space but is, in fact, a shell of gas and dust ejected from the surface of a dying star.
Lastly, try looking for M56, a globular cluster that experienced observers can find midway between Lyra and Albireo, the famous double star that marks the head of Cygnus, the Swan. If you want to try your luck, you’ll need at least a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.
(Click on the images to enlarge.)
Image courtesy of Mobile Observatory.
The Beta Cassiopeid meteor shower begins. Maximum zenith hourly rate: 10. (Naked eye, Cassiopeia, all night but best in the pre-dawn sky.)
The constellation Lyra (the Lyre) culminates at midnight tonight. (All night. See images above.)
The open star cluster M11, the Wild Duck Cluster, culminates at midnight tonight. (Magnitude 6.3. Scutum, all night.)
Events in bold involve objects and/or events that are visible with the naked eye.
All times, except those accompanying the graphics, are in Universal Time (UTC). To convert the time to your timezone, click here.
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