The Lyra constellation has the bright star of Vega, and a yearly meteor shower from April 20-22. This Lyrid meteor shower 2011 will be a bit washed out by the waning gibbous moon. The full moon is April 17th, so the moon is past full during the Lyrid meteors extravaganza, however it is still 90 - 74 percent full, so the bright sky will bleach out some of the meteor show. The best prediction for viewing is late night April 22nd to dawn April 23rd. Multiple meteors generally fall in the dark pre-dawn hours, and unpredictable surges of up to 100 meteors falling do happen, so that is why these lively Lyrids are worth checking out.
The star lore, or Lyra constellation myth goes like this. The translation is lyre or harp, and Hermes, the child of Zeus and Maia created it. He was born at dawn, had invented and played the lyre by midday, and was stealing cattle from Apollo that evening. Quite a bit of mischievous for a young god. He met up with a tortoise who he considered a charm against evil while alive but if dead it would make beautiful music he thought. So he scooped the life out of the tortoise shell, cut some reeds and extended them through and across the shell and fastened them. Then he stretched an ox hide around it, added two arms, attached a bridge, and put seven strings of sheep gut to strike successful notes of musical glory. He made up songs to honor his parents love. He ended up giving Apollo his lyre as amends for stealing his cattle. Later, Apollo gave it to his son Orpheus. The lyre is associated with soothing music for all, especially Hercules the mighty toiler whose constellation is next to Lyra. There is some myth about Zeus eventually placing the lyre in the heavens after Orpheus died.
The 5th brightest star, Vega is part of the Lyra constellation, and it has some mythology also. It is known as Wega (derived from Arabic) meaning “Swooping Eagle of the Desert.” The Babylonians called it “The Star of the Queen of Life.” Vega is sometimes called the “Harp Star.” It is a brilliant blue-white color easily recognized by a watcher of the skies. It makes the small Lyra constellation easy to view also. Vega is one of three stars that forms the Summer Triangle star formation. Vega is bright enough to be seen even from light drenched cities.
Perhaps you are a light sleeper, or one who awakens around 3:00 am nightly. Remember those pre-dawn hours are the darkest usually, and the best time for looking up at the sky. You can have a nice warm sleeping bag ready to grab and take it outside with you to lay on or in and see the sights of the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Even better you can take a thermos of coffee or tea to sip on while being at one with the astronomical event of April! Be a part of the ancient science of astronomy.
image credit- wikimedia- author Torsten Bronger