The first meteor shower of the year is almost upon us. The Quadrantids are set to light up the sky tomorrow night, so get ready for a fantastic celestial show, courtesy of the 2003 EH1 asteroid.
Hailed as one of the best meteor showers of the entire year, the Quadrantids produce, on average, around 80 meteors per hour on their peak night. According to NASA, under perfect viewing conditions, star gazers can expect to see anywhere between 60 to 200 bright meteors per hour.
The good news is that the 2019 Quadrantids will benefit from great viewing conditions, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. This year, the Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on the night of January 3, lasting from midnight until dawn on the morning of January 4. Since the peak of the Quadrantids occurs during the almost-new waning crescent moon, there will be no moonlight to wash out the splendid shooting stars.
Where Do The Quadrantid Meteors Come From?
First spotted almost two centuries ago, in 1825, the Quadrantids are one of only two meteor showers that don’t originate from a comet. Just like the Geminids, which grace the skies in December, the Quadrantids are produced by an asteroid.
While the Geminids owe their existence to a 3.1-mile-wide blue asteroid called 3200 Phaethon, the Quadrantids are leftover debris from an even smaller, 2-mile-wide space rock known as 2003 EH1.
Discovered 16 years ago by NASA’s LONEOS project, this asteroid — which is being described as a “rock comet,” just like 3200 Phaethon — orbits the sun once every 5.3 years. Whenever it comes close to the sun, the space rock heats up, releasing a dusty trail that streaks around its orbital path.
“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 colorful streaks in the sky,” explains NASA.
How Did The Quadrantids Get Their Name?
Aside from being one of the two rare meteor showers created by an asteroid, the Quadrantids also have an interesting story behind their name. These meteors were named after a now-dead constellation dubbed Quadrans Muralis, which served as their radiant — or the point in the sky from where they seemed to radiate.
Created in 1795 by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande, this constellation was inspired by the famous quadrant — an early astronomical tool used to observe and plot star positions. Nestled between the constellations of Bootes and Draco — near the famous Big Dipper asterism — Quadrans Muralis never made it to the International Astronomical Union’s list of recognized modern constellations.
Although it may not be an official constellation, Quadrans Muralis was regarded as one for more than a century — long enough to give its name to the meteor shower.
Fun Facts About The Quadrantid Meteor Shower
Another thing that sets the Quadrantids apart from other annual meteor showers is their very narrow peak interval.
These meteors are active from December 28 — or about two weeks after the peak of the Geminids — and until January 12. However, the largest number of Quadrantid meteors are visible for only a brief amount of time — during a few hours on their peak night. At the same time, other meteor showers enjoy a two-day peak, which increases the chances of spotting the shooting stars streaking across the sky.
The peak of the Quadrantids will be followed by the rise of the new moon — and a partial solar eclipse on January 6. Next up is a mesmerizing super blood moon eclipse on January 20 through 21, when the full moon of January — also known as the “Wolf Moon” — will pass through Earth’s shadow, donning a “blood” red color.
To read more about this exquisite astronomical event, check out this previous report from the Inquisitr.
Where To Catch The 2019 Quadrantids
As EarthSky points out, “any place at mid-northern and far-northern latitudes might be in a decent position to watch the Quadrantids in 2019, especially as there is no moonlight to ruin this year’s show.”
However, this Quadrantid meteor shower is also visible at latitudes north of 51 degrees south during the night and predawn hours, notes NASA.
Known for their spectacular performance, the Quadrantids are expected to rain down significant visual markers, and will set the sky ablaze with plenty of bright fireballs.
“Fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. This is due to the fact that fireballs originate from larger particles of material.”
For viewers in the Unites States, the best places to catch a glimpse the Quadrantid meteor shower are the central and southwestern parts of the country, reports AccuWeather. Meanwhile, sky watchers in Europe will be able to watch the Quadrantids unencumbered.
If you’re planning to catch the Geminids on camera, check out these 10 NASA pro tips on how to photograph a meteor shower, summarized by the Inquisitr.
Happy viewing, everyone!