If you’ve missed the fireworks of the New Year, don’t fret.
Mother Nature this week will give you another opportunity to start 2017 with stars in your eyes thanks to the Quadrantids meteor shower.
January 2017 will be a great opportunity to catch a glimpse this little-known phenomenon.
A dim almost-new-moon in the early morning hours of Jan. 3-4 will offer favourable peak viewing conditions when an average of 120 meteors per hour are expected to streak across the night sky.
This year Alaska and Hawaii will be the best geographically located to observe the meteor shower during its quick early morning peak. The more west you are along North America, the more of the meteor shower you will see.
About the Meteor Shower
The Quadrantids, which come annually in early January, are considered to be one of the best meteor showers.
Most meteor showers have a two day peak, which makes catching sight of these other meteors much more possible. The Quadrantids peak, on the other hand, is much shorter.
The reason is due to the shower’s thin stream of particles and the fact that the Earth crosses the stream at a perpendicular angle.
During its peak, 60 to as many as 200 Quadrantid meteors can be seen per hour under perfect conditions.
Quadrantids are also known for their bright fireball meteors. Fireballs are larger explosions of light and colour that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. This is due to the fact that fireballs originate from larger particles of material.
- The Quadrantids are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere (this shower can also be seen at latitudes north of 51 degrees south) during the night and pre-dawn hours.
- To view the Quadrantids, find an area well away from city or street lights.
- Come prepared for winter weather with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair.
- Lie flat on your back with your feet facing northeast and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible.
- In less than 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors.
- Be patient, the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.
Where Do Meteors Come From?
Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids. When these objects come around the sun, the dust they emit gradually spreads into a dusty trail around their orbits.
Every year the Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere where they disintegrate to create fiery and colourful streaks in the sky.
Unlike most meteor showers which originate from comets, the Quadrantids meteor fragments originate from an asteroid: asteroid 2003 EH1. The asteroid takes five and a half years to orbit the sun.
It is possible that 2003 EH is a “dead comet” or a new kind of object being discussed by astronomers called a “rock comet.”
2003 EH1 was discovered on 6 March 2003 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search (LONEOS). 2003 EH1 is a small asteroid — its diameter measures only about 3 km across. It was astronomer and research scientist Peter Jenniskens who realized that 2003 EH1 is the source for the Quadrantid meteors.
The Quadrantids’ radiant – or the point in the sky from which the Quadrantids appear to radiate outward — is located in the “Quadrans Muralis” obsolete constellation.
French astronomer Jerome Lalande created this constellation in 1795. The constellation takes its name from an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot star positions: otherwise known as a quadrant. The meteor shower was first seen in 1825.
Where to find the Quadrans Muralis?
When the International Astronomical Union (IAU) created a list of recognized modern constellations in 1922, Quadrans Muralis was left off the list. Quadrans Muralis is located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco (near the end of the handle of the “Big Dipper”).
An alternative name for the Quadrantids is the Bootids since the meteors appear to radiate from the modern constellation of Bootes.
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