Vega, the harp, or lyre, is a small, but pretty constellation northern constellation that contributes the bright star Vega (Alpha Lyre) to the Summer Triangle. Lyra is located between Hercules and Cygnus, and all of its main stars can be readily picked out, even in our light-polluted skies. It reaches its highest nightfall ascension in August.
Lyra is home to two Messier objects. M56 is a rather loose globular cluster of stars located near Hercules’ southern border with Cygnus. M57 is one on the most interesting Messier objects, and is also known as the Ring Nebula. It is located half-way between the two stars of the parallelogram asterism most distant from Vega. The “ring” is an emission nebula consisting of an expanding shell of ionized gas that was ejected from a red giant star late in its life about 6,000 years ago.
© James R. Johnson, 2014.