Heads up, the first major meteor shower of the 2020s is about to take the stage.
The Quadrantid meteor shower is set to peak in the late hours of Friday, January 3, until dawn breaks on Saturday, January 4, according to the International Meteor Organization (IMO).
The Quadrantid meteor shower is short but sweet. At their peak, between 60 to 200 meteors can be seen each hour, if weather conditions are in your favor. The Quadrantids have the potential to be the strongest shower of the year, famed for their especially long and bright streaks. Despite this, viewing them can be a bit tricky. They typically have a short burst of activity, around 6 hours or so, and their visibility is often hampered by the gloomy January weather.
The Quadrantids are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere, although the event can also be seen at some locations just south of the equator. The meteors will radiate from the northern sky, but don’t worry too much about that as they’re visible in all parts of the sky.
The source of the meteors is an asteroid or a possible "rock comet" called 2003 EH1 that’s zipping through our solar system at 41 kilometers (26 miles) per second. Meteors are bits of debris that have chipped off asteroids or comets. When they hit Earth’s upper atmosphere at speed, they burn up and release a bright streak that appears across the sky.
The name of the meteor shower comes from Quadrans Muralis, a former constellation created in 1795 by the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande. Unfortunately, it’s now considered an obsolete constellation as it wasn’t included in the International Astronomical Union’s list of 88 modern constellations.
As with any meteor shower, try to get as far as possible from the hum of street lamps and other sources of light pollution as this will help the meteors to appear brighter in the sky. Equally, if you head outside for at least 30 minutes beforehand, your eyes will acclimatize to the low light levels.
“Come prepared for winter weather with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair. Lie flat on your back with your feet facing northeast and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible,” NASA recommends.