New Year's Quadrantids Meteor Show To Peak This Week
December 31, 2012

Quadrantids Meteor Shower Expected To Ring In The New Year In Style

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Sky watchers can expect the first big astronomical event of 2013 to happen just as the New Year begins to unfold.

The annual Quadrantids meteor shower typically arrives in the beginning of January and is renowned for being more intense than the Perseids shower in August and the Geminids shower in December.

Meteor visibility will peak around 2:30 a.m. EST on Jan. 3, with about 80 streaks per hour. A waning gibbous moon, about 50 percent full, will limit visibility until it sets around 3:00 a.m. After the moon sets, the sky will grow dark, making the meteors more visible until the first light of dawn appears at around 6 a.m.

Experts suggest that the Quadrantid meteor shower can best be seen away from the “light pollution” of large towns and cities. To find the meteor shower in the sky, observers should find the Big Dipper constellation, and then trace up from that constellation´s “cup.” Above the cup is, the constellation Draco, which forms the upper bracket of the area in the sky where the meteors are expected to be spotted. Only those observing at latitudes north of 51 degrees south will be able to see the Quadrantids shower.

The meteors are expected to enter the atmosphere at 90,000 mph, and then burn up about 50 miles above the Earth. Some experts said that the intensity of the shower could mean that New Year´s revelers will be able to spot the natural fireworks a night early.

According to NASA, the Quadrantids originated from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. The agency cited studies suggesting that 2003 EH1 came from a comet which broke apart several hundred years ago, and the annual shower comes from debris that came out of this fragmentation.

While this year´s shower will compete with the brightness of the moon for a period of time, the Quadrantids of 2011 occurred on a moonless night. However, most observers are expecting the 2013 show to be better than last year´s, which was up against a 73 percent full moon.

Quadrantids are different from other major meteor showers in that it is named after a constellation which no longer exists. For example, the Perseids meteor shower is named for the constellation Perseus, and the Geminids meteor shower is named for the constellation Gemini. Quadrans Muralis, the constellation for which Quadrantids is named, was found in early-19th century. It is now considered to be part now of the constellation Boötes.

The January shower is most notable for its ability to produce fireballs, and its high hourly rates. Despite the fact that these meteors created highly visible streaks while 50 miles above the Earth, most of them are quite small and pose no danger to people or property, experts have said.

Astronomers advise that people who want to see Quadrantids should look as low as possible toward the horizon without seeing the ground.