OK, fans of celestial happenings, get ready for the first meteor shower of 2013.
Here come the Quadrantids!
The high-powered Quadrantids meteor shower should peak just before dawn Thursday with a maximum number of meteors per hour of about 80.
The meteor shower is expected to "last only a few hours," according to NASA.com.
The meteors are believed to be a piece comet that broke apart centuries ago. The fragments will enter the Earth's atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth's surface, according to NASA.
These may not be easy meteor showers to see. According to writer Bruce McClure in EarthSky.org, the narrow window of peak Quandrantid-watching could come about 1300 hours Universal Time, which is 5 a.m. Pacific Standard time. Cupertino can expect partly cloudy skies and chilly temperatures during the best viewing times, according to Weather.com.
A Quadrantid shower can match the meteor rates of the better known Perseid and Geminid showers that we saw in August and December, EarthSky wrote. With the Quadrantids' narrow peak, and imprecise timing, you may not see a lot, or you could be rewarded with a good show. No matter where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the best time to watch is between midnight and dawn, local time, EarthSky recommended.
If clouds don't obscure the meteor shower, the glowing moon may outshine it. The meteor shower ispeaking while the moon is in its bright gibbous phase, according to Space.com.
Viewing tips from NASA:
- 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 origin of the name, Quadrantids, may be the perfect question to stump trivia contestants. Like most meteor showers, the Quadrantids are named for the constellations from which they appear to radiate. The name comes from the constellation Quadrans Muralis, created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795, located between the constellations of Bootes the Herdsman and Draco the Dragon. But then, a bit like Pluto, Quadrans Muralis fell upon hard times.
Fast-forward 127 years. The International Astronomical Union came up with a list 88 modern constellations in 1922. It did not include a constellation Quadrans Muralis, rendering the constellation, in one vote, obsolete. The meteor shower's name is all that remains to remind us of the Lalande's constellation.
The radiant point for the Quadrantids is now considered to be at the northern tip of Bootes, near the Big Dipper asterism in our sky, not far from Bootes’ brightest star Arcturus, EarthSky.com says.
EarthSky.org reminds readers that the predicted peak time is a best guess, not something to set your watch to. Different sources set it at different times. It could happen several hours later, which push it into the daylight hours.
It’s best to have a dark sky, so it’s not helpful that the waning moon is not waning enough at this time. If you’re up—or make a point of being up—look skywards toward the Big Dipper and hope for the best.