If you look up into the sky tonight, between the times of 3 a.m. EST, and dawn, you’ll be lucky enough to catch not only the first meteor shower of the year, but also a spectacular — if less known — one at that.
Tonight, January 3, marks the annual Quadrantids meteor shower, and even though it is less known than other yearly meteor showers, such as the Perseids, the Leonids, or the Geminids, the the Quandrantids shower actually has significantly more meteors per hour than some of its more famous brethren — roughly 120 per hour at its peak, compared to the Perseids’ 60 meteors per hour.
According to NASA, prime viewing location for the Quadrantids meteor shower goes to Alaska or Hawaii, but it can be seen across the northern hemisphere. The west coast of the U.S. is likely to get a much better viewing than those who live further east. To best view this spectacular shower tonight, NASA suggests you find a dark area, well away from the city, or any light pollution, and set yourself up after midnight, but before three a.m., when the meteor shower will be at its peak.
“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.”
Unlike most meteor showers, whose meteors are the result of the debris falling from comets burning up in our atmosphere, the meteroids seen during the Quadrantids shower actually come from a mysterious “rocky-body” called 2003 EH1, that has been described, at one time or another, as a minor planet, a dead comet, or an asteroid. The meteors you’ll see tonight are burning pieces of 2003 EH1.
Due to the fact that the Quadrantids meteors come from this relatively new, and mysterious source, it actually changes how you’ll see the meteors tonight, reports Gizmodo. These particular meteors — also known as fireball meteors — will be stronger and sturdier than those seen during other yearly showers, and thus will likely burn brighter and produce longer tails. They’ll also be falling at roughly 25.5 miles (41 km) per second, compared to the Perseids, which travel at roughly 36 miles (58 km) per second.
If you’re wondering why other yearly meteor showers such as the Geminids, Perseids, and Leonids all sound vaguely familiar, while the Quadrantids does not, it’s because meteor showers are typically named after their radiant constellation — the Geminids seem to emanate from the constellation of Gemini, the Perseids from Perseus, and the Leonids from Leo — and, simply put, the constellation for which the Quadrantids were named no longer exists. The original constellation from which the Quadrantids got their name was Quadrans Muralis, and was first created by French astronomer Jerome Lalande, in 1795. Quadrans Muralis, was a sort of “super-constellation” consisting of a large grouping of stars which now form individual constellations — the Big Dipper, Draco, and Bootes.
When the International Astronomical Union began creating its list of recognized modern constellations in 1922, which consists of 88 official constellations to date, they decided to leave Quadrans Muralis off the list, in favor of the more distinct individual constellations we know today.
Will you be bundling up and heading out of the city to catch the Quadrantids meteor shower tonight? If you’d rather not venture out into the cold, don’t worry, the internet, of course, has you covered as well. You can catch the whole meteor shower via the Slooh Observatory’s live feed, broadcasting from the Canary Islands.
[Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]