How to find it
From our mid-northern latitudes, this intriguing star in the constellation Lyra the Harp shines for all least part of the night all year round. Epsilon Lyrae graces the nighttime from dusk till dawn on summer nights, and is high overhead on autumn evenings. In winter, this star appears in the northwest sky after dusk, and then in the northeast sky before dawn. When spring arrives in March, Epsilon Lyrae rises before midnight, then shines for rest of the night.
In addition to the star’s nighttime prevalence, Epsilon Lyrae is wonderfully easy to find. That’s good news for the novice sky watcher! All you have to do is to find the super-brilliant star Vega, the brightest star in the famous Summer Triangle asterism. Epsilon Lyrae, though a fairly faint star, shines in close vicinity to this beacon guide star. The gap between Vega and Epsilon Lyrae only amounts to the width of your little finger at an arm length away.
Star With A Multiple Personality
So what’s so special about this rather faint star close to Vega? It’s a star with a multiple personality. Epsilon Lyrae lets you enjoy a firsthand view of a binary star – two stars orbiting a common center of mass. Best of all, you don’t even need a telescope to see this stellar couple. Ordinary binoculars work just fine. Aim your binoculars at Vega to spot two equally bright pinpoints of light right next to one another, nor far from Vega in your binocular field. Quite conveniently, Epsilon Lyrae and Vega easily fit within the same field of view!
That single point of light we see as Epsilon Lyrae is actually two stars waltzing around each other in space. People with exceptionally good eyestight can actually see both stars with the unaided eye on a clear, dark night. For the rest of us mortals, binoculars bring this binary star into view.
Epsilon Lyrae is so much more than an ordianry binary. Each component is in itself a binary star. Therefore, that point of light we see as a single star is really 4 stars in one, with one stellar pair circling around the other stellar pair in an intricate gravitational dance. However, a telescope is needed to see all 4 of Epsilon Lyrae’s stars.
Although Vega and Epsilon Lyrae look like they’re close together in space, they really aren’t. These stars only reside along the same line of sight. Astronomers have determined that Vega is some 25 light-years, whereas Epsilon is over 6 times farther, at about 160 light-years away. The two stars of Epsilon Lyrae that you see with binoculars are thought to be 10,000 times the sun/Earth distance apart, and probably take at least a half a million years to revolve around each other. The component binaries visible through the telescope are much closer together, and are believed to circle each other in periods of about 1,000 years.
Epsilon Lyrae’s position is RA: 18h 44m 18.5s, dec: +39° 40′ 12.4″