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Constellations: Lyra -- The Lyre of Orpheus


One story associates this constellation with Arion's lyre, but most speak of the lyre of Orpheus, a son of the god Apollo and Calliope, one of the muses. He married Eurydice, a nymph who died early in the marriage when bitten by a snake. Orpheus refused all consolation and journeyed to the underworld, armed only with his lyre. Above ground he was capable of charming animals and trees, below ground he charmed Cerberus, the multi-headed dog; Charon, the ferryman over the river Styx; the snake haired Furies; and finally the rulers of the underworld, great Hades and Persephone. They agreed to return Eurydice to the surface provided she would walk behind her husband, and he not look back.

We have yet to hear a story where such instructions get followed. Torn by doubts, Orpheus looked back. We might forgive him, but the powers of the deep never do. Orpheus saw his wife. They reached for each other, but she melted from his grasp. The gates of the deep crashed, closing on Eurydice, and hurling Orpheus on the surface of the earth.

Orpheus wandered alone seven months, singing and playing the lyre. Trees and flowers followed him. Beasts and birds came to listen. A band of women in a drunken frenzy, followers of Dionysus, encountered him. When he would not have sex with them, they tore him limb from limb, scattering his remains and taking his head to the island of Lesbos. The rest of his body received burial in Thrace, where the nightingales now sing more sweetly than anywhere else on earth. Apollo bent down from heaven, gathered the lyre, and placed it in the sky.

In a sequel: At the time of Christ there existed a mystery cult dedicated to Orpheus. Stressing ecstatic experience without the use of alcohol, the members also celebrated the ritualized death of Dionysus.


Each map can be clicked on to produce a 909x1199 version of it. They sport red labels, which look good on screen, but which disappear when used with red flashlights. Each map, therefore has a second link to a map better suited for printing in a graphics program, and using in the field. While they are quite large, they are all about 38-62k, and so are easy to view at today's modem speeds. The first map is a wide area view of the constellation, suitable for naked eye browsing. The next views are binocular width, showing stars to mag. 10, deepsky objects to mag. 12.9, and labeling deepsky objects to magnitude 12.

Interactive, wide area map of Lyra

Map image

Click the map for a 909x1199 version of the above. Click here for a map better suited for use in the field.

Detailed Map

Map image

This a more detailed view of the constellation. The map displays stars to magnitude 10, and deepsky objects to magnitude 12. Click here for a map better suited for use in the field.


Image thumbnail 78k JPEG M56 (NGC6779) is a fairly bright (mag. 8.3), large (7'), somewhat irregular, rich, and condensed globular found 3.8° NW of Albireo (beta Cygni). The Milky Way is a blessing and a curse: A curse because it dims the object. A blessing because M56 lies in a rich field. Image from the Digital Sky Survey.
Map Printable Map More info.

The Ring Nebula

A pretty, mag. 9 planetary found between the two southern stars of the parallelogram portion of Lyra. Size is 2.5'. The central star is sometimes visible in larger instruments. Image from the Digital Sky Survey.

Image thumbnail 3k JPEG Image thumbnail 10k JPEG
First image description: This is an image of M57 produced by the simultaneous deconvolution of 9, 6 minute images... I think that the resolution is somewhat higher than anything else I did before! The raw images were taken with a C8 and ST7 in good seeing condition. -- Benoit Schilling.

Second image description: This was a focal-plane image of the f10 instrument. The 'ZOOM' mode of MiPS was used to scale the image with no apparent loss of resolution.
Map Printable Map More info.


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