The Quadrantids provides one of the most intense annual meteor showers, with a brief, sharp maximum lasting but a few hours.
NASA officials are saying this year’s Quadrantid meteor shower is not to be missed.
“The 2012 Quadrantids, a little-known meteor shower named after an extinct constellation, will present an excellent chance for hardy souls to start the year off with some late-night meteor watching,” NASA officials said in a posting on the space agency’s website.
The short-lived meteor shower is will peak at approximately 3 a.m. and dawn, according to the space agency. Best viewing will be in the northern hemisphere, but the shower can be seen at latitudes north of 51 degrees south. Meteor rates will increase after midnight , providing amateur astronomers with a great show.
This makes the predawn hours Thursday the best time to look for Quads in North America, said Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama,
The Quadrantids derive their name from the constellation of Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant), which was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco, Quadrans represents an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot stars. Even though the constellation is no longer recognized by astronomers, it was around long enough to give the meteor shower — first seen in 1825 — its name. Unlike many meteor showers, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid dubbed 2003 EH1.
“After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth’s surface,” according to NASA.
It remains unclear whether the moon’s brightness will outshine the meteor shower. This year, the meteor shower is peaking while the moon is in its bright gibbous phase, just days after the recent full moon on Dec. 28, which may interfere with the cosmic light show.
NASA and Ustream will have a webcast from Wednesday through Friday with one view of the meteor shower. Readers can also watch the live stream below: