As Webster 1913 mentions - albeit in a cryptic way - the name Lyra is Latin
for the instrument lyre. This constellation is one of the most northern on the
northern hemisphere night sky. In fact, the brightest star in the
constellation - Vega - used to be earth's North Star/northern polestar,
much like Polaris is today. The earth's rotational axis period of precession
is about 26,000 years, and in that time the stars of Vega, Polaris and Thuban
alternate. For more on this see Precession of the equinoxes.
The perhaps most interesting object in the Lyra is the rather famous M57
ring nebula, which is one of the most beautiful objects to watch through a
telescope. Lyra is also part of the Summer Triangle together with Deneb and
Altair from other constellations. (Yes, those names all sound so familiar....
here's why). There's also M56, which is a a quite condense
Also, the ε Lyr is the famous "double-double". It is a
double-star that is quite separated, and possible to see for someone with
exceptional eye-sight. Watched through a telescope, a surprise is revealed;
each of the two stars are themselves double-stars! So this is really a quadruple-star,
or double-double. There are also plenty of other double-stars in Lyra.
The mythology suggest that Lyra was the very hard instrument that Orpheus
used to play. The legend has it that after Orpheus' death, Apollo asked Zeus
to place the lyre in the night sky as a memory of the greatest musician there
was. As ril mentions, other cultures usually see the constellation as some
kind of bird, which often is seen as hunted by the nearby Hercules.
This is what it looks like: (This is a traditional Lyra drawing and it does
not include every tiny little star that is scientifically included in the
e Lyr * . . . *
. * Sheliak
d Lyr * O M57 Ring Nebula
M56 a bit down there.
"e Lyr" and "d Lyr" are really epsilon and delta Lyr, but I'm sparing the Netscape users, ok?