How to watch: Quadrantid meteor shower to light up night sky

By Brooks Hays  |  Jan. 3, 2018 at 5:29 PM
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Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower will begin Wednesday night and last through Thursday morning. The shower often produces long-lasting and bright fireballs, but weather and the moon will pose problems for skywatchers.

The Quadrantid peak comes just two days after the "Full Wolf" supermoon, a full moon during the moon's perigee, the closest its orbit comes to Earth. That means the moon is especially big and bright at the moment -- the brightest it will be in 2018. That extra light can make spotting shooting stars more difficult.

According to Space.com, viewers can expect to see roughly a dozen meteors per hour during peak viewing times. The early hours of Thursday morning will likely produce the most productive viewing.

While most meteor showers peak over the course of a few days, the Quadrantids' zenith lasts just a few hours. Last year, the shower yielded roughly 100 meteors per hour during its peak.

Viewing details are only relevant, of course, if the weather cooperates. Across much of the United States, temperatures are extremely low -- dangerously so, for some.

Even for those willing to brave the cold, clouds and snow may thwart meteor-gazing plans. A large winter snow storm is currently making its way up the East Coast.

The shower was first noted by Italian astronomer Antonio Brucalassi in 1825. It was later spotted and named in 1839 by Adolphe Quetelet of Belgium's Brussels Observatory.

Several astronomers in Europe and America also independently observed the meteor shower. It's named so because its shooting stars appeared to radiate from the constellation Quadrans Muralis, which is no longer recognized by astronomers. The shower's radiation point is near the constellation Boötes, located high in the arc of the northern sky, not far from the Big Dipper.

Meteor showers occur when Earth's upper atmosphere collides with debris in the solar system, usually the dust and fragments left behind by the tail of a comet. But scientists aren't sure of the orbital body from which the Quadrantid debris originates.

NASA scientists believe a rock comet, or icy asteroid, known as 2003 EH1 explains the annual meteor shower.

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