Another storm with an ominous name is set to hit not just the United States, but the entire world. This time, though, the light show won’t be accompanied by hurricane-force winds or thunder and lightning: it’s the Quadrantids, a yearly early January meteor shower that lasts three nights.
The shower is known for its brilliant effects and brief viewing period of the brightest meteor rates, peaking at one-half of its highest value or more for just eight hours. Wednesday night on the wee hours of January 3 is the peak brightness for Quadrantids, making it particularly important for any serious meteor-watchers to get tonight.
Quadrantids is difficult to see; a combination of factors including brevity, a late-night appearance, moonlight and weather can interfere with visibility and hamper would-be space-watchers. The shower will reach a climax between 2am and 7am. “If you miss the peak — which is easy to do — this otherwise tepid shower is sure to disappoint,” according to Earth Sky. That peak is particularly important to catch, as a waning gibbous moon will severely decrease visibility.
To view Quadrantids, go outside and allow your eyes 30-45 minutes to adjust to the dark. Look straight up, allowing your eyes to take in as much of the sky as possible. You will need cloudless, dark skies away from city lights to see the shower. The maximum rate will be about 120/hour. However, light from the waning gibbous moon will wash out fainter meteors, so don’t expect to see this many. The peak rate of the Quadrantids has varied between 60-200, so its peak is not as consistent as other showers.
Best viewing is in the northern hemisphere, but the shower can be seen at any latitude north of 51 south.
The Quadrantids originally broke off from a asteroid known as 2003 EH1, which may have been a piece of a comet which disintegrated centuries ago. The meteors you see are space debris from 2003 EH1, entering the atmosphere at speeds in excess of 90,000 miles per hour and burning nearly 50 miles above the ground in the middle atmosphere.
NASA will provide a live webcast via Ustream, from Marshall Space Flight Center on from January 2 to January 4, which you can also see below. The camera is light-activated and begins filming at dusk (around 6 PM EST). During the day, tune in for pre-recorded footage of the shower.