The constellation Lyra is connected to the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus). It has most commonly been named in association with music or birds. The ancient Britons called it King Arthur's Harp. In Bohemia it was called the Fiddle in the Sky. One legend states that the constellation of the Swan is the transformed hero Orpheus, who enchanted men and beasts alike with his harp or lyre, explaining why the constellations are connected.

Lyra has also been associated with birds, though. The name Vega for the constellation's foremost star comes from the Arabic word meaning Swooping Eagle or Vulture.
RCA Lyra and me: A testimonial

I've been with the MP3 "scene" for a long time (about 3 years). I'd been meaning to get a portable MP3 player since they were available, but I didn't want to dish out $200 for one. This weekend an opportunity arose. My friend had just got a brand new RCA Lyra but couldn't figure out how to use it and was too lazy to take the time to learn. He offered to sell it to me for $150. I considered but then declined. Later that day he asked for a ride to San Francisco. I told him no, but then he said he'd give me the Lyra for a ride and $40. I couldn't pass that up. So now I am the proud owner of an RCA Lyra portable MP3 player.

After getting it from my friend I took it home and hooked it up to my PC. My friend neglected to give me the software or manual so I was on my own. It came with cables to hook up the memory card to my PC's parallel port. Unlike some MP3 players you don't dock the whole unit but rather eject the memory card and plug only that in. I went to Lyra's web site to download the parallel port drivers. The driver installed with no difficulties, which actually surprised me. Another thing that surprised me is that it maps the memory card as a letter drive. I thought that was great. Having not read the manual, and seeing no other software on the Lyra website, I figured you could simply drag mp3s straight to the memory card. How wrong I was.

It turns out you have to use special software to copy the files to the memory card. Most MP3 players use software specific to that player to copy music to it. The Lyra has no such software. Instead it relies on third party Jukebox software such as RealJukebox, MusicMatch, or even Windows Media Player 7. It apparently comes with RealJukebox Plus, but since my friend neglected to give me the software, I just used my free copy of RealJukebox. Copying music to the device was very simple. You just make a playlist and select "Send to Portable Device". RealJukebox does the rest. During the copying process I noticed something interesting. Some of the songs copied in seconds, while others took a minute or two. It seems that the Lyra does not support MP3s encoded at higher than 128 kbps. Any file that is encoded at a higher bitrate or encoded at variable bitrate has to be re-encoded by RealJukebox. Since I only have the free version it cannot encode at higher than 96kbps. That really pissed me off. Most of my MP3s that I encode myself or download from Napster are 192kbps, meaning that if I use RealJukebox almost all my MP3s will be changed to 96kbps when I move them to the player. I tried using WMP to do the transfer instead. WMP ended up taking longer than RealJukebox did. Sure it will encode at 128kbps but it re-encodes everything to WMA files, and the encoder is very slow. So basically I have three options: Live with RealJukebox and 96kbps MP3s, Deal with WMP taking ages to re-encode the files to WMA, or pay $30 to upgrade RealJukebox to the Plus version. All three options are unappealing. Why can't I just copy the files straight to the player? Goddammit!

The Lyra has some other issues too. Even at max volume it isn't very loud. The buttons are unresponsive. It is very slow when changing tracks. The battery life is very short. Even with all its shortcomings I do really like it. It is a first generation product and I'm sure that things will only get better.

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 cluster.

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 constellation.)

                  X  Vega
                .    .       
               .        .      
              .           .
  e Lyr      *  .   .   .  *   
                                 .
                            .          .
                                            .
                              .                   .
                                                          .
                                .                                 * Sheliak
                                                                   .  

                                  .                                 .

                           d Lyr    *                                O M57 Ring Nebula 
                                                    .                 .
                                                               .
                                                                       * Sulufat


                                                                          |
                                                                          |
                                                                          V
                                                                         M56 a bit down there. 
"e Lyr" and "d Lyr" are really epsilon and delta Lyr, but I'm sparing the Netscape users, ok?

Ly"ra (?), n. [L. lyra, Gr. . See Lyre.]

1. Astron.

A northern constellation, the Harp, containing a white star of the first magnitude, called Alpha Lyrae, or Vega.

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2. Anat.

The middle portion of the ventral surface of the fornix of the brain; -- so called from the arrangement of the lines with which it is marked in the human brain.

 

© Webster 1913.

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