Don't Miss The Quadrantid Meteor Shower Reach Its Peak This Week

The Quadrantid meteor shower light up the sky every January. Satoshi TAKEU/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Just as the Christmas lights are coming down and the NYE fireworks have fizzled away, the first meteor shower of 2018 is about to light up the night sky.

The Quadrantid meteor shower will reach its peak this week on Wednesday, January 3 at 4pm EST (9pm GMT), although it will continue to bubble away until January 17, according to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope mission team.

The meteors radiate from the northern sky from the constellation Boötes, not far from the Big Dipper, but you will be to see them in all parts of the sky if you are in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re viewing from the Southern Hemisphere you probably won’t have much luck seeing many meteors. 

Viewing may be tricky. The Quadrantids are not as bright and vibrant as other meteor showers. On top of this, the night sky’s waning gibbous Moon is likely to drown out the rest of the shower.

Nevertheless, you could potentially spot over 10 meteors per hour if you are lucky, according to the American Meteor Society. For best results, get far away from artificial lights, hope for clear skies, and head outside 30 minutes beforehand to allow your eyes to adjust to the low-light levels. Put on a wooly hat and get the kettle on too – it’s cold out.

The orbit of 2003 EH1. Osamu Ajiki/Ron Baalke/JPL/NASA

The dazzling streaks of light that you will see are specks of debris from the rocky object 2003 EH1. As pieces of the asteroid hit Earth’s upper atmosphere, they burn up and exude a beautiful bluish tail of light. 

"Unlike most meteor showers which originate from comets, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid: asteroid 2003 EH1," according to NASA. "Asteroid 2003 EH1 takes 5.52 years to orbit the sun once. It is possible that 2003 EH is a "dead comet" or a new kind of object being discussed by astronomers called a rock comet."

This meteor shower gets its name from the Quadrans Muralis, a former constellation that is no longer recognized by the International Astronomical Union. In the 1920s, they rewrote the official definition and abolished 30 of them, one of which was the Quadrans Muralis.

January is set to be a great month for stargazers. We've already had the rare supermoon "Wolf Moon" and you should catch a glimpse of a total lunar eclipse on January 31 (which will coincidentally also be a blue Moon too because it's the second full Moon in the calendar month).



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