2017 Quadrantid meteor shower peaks Jan. 3-4

The sky itself is joining in the New Year’s celebration.

The Quadrantid meteor shower will peak during the pre-dawn hours Tuesday, with prime viewing from late night Tuesday into early Wednesday as well. As always, weather can play a factor and clouds could block the best viewing.

The Quadrantids peak during early January each year and are considered one of the best annual meteor showers in terms of numbers of shooting stars, according to NASA. There’s a catch, however – the peak viewing time of the Quadrantids is much shorter – only a few hours – when compared to two-day peaks from normal meteor showers.

“The reason the peak is so short is due to the shower’s thin stream of particles and the fact that the Earth crosses the stream at a perpendicular angle,” NASA explained.

Under perfect conditions, as many as 200 Quadrantid meteors can be seen per hour. The shower is known for its brighter-than-normal fireballs with large explosions of color that last longer than an average meteor streak due to their origination point from larger particles of materials.

Quadrantid’s unique origin

Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids. As the object move around the sun, the dust the comets and meteors emit creates a trail around their orbits. As the Earth passes through the trails, the bits of dust collide with our atmosphere, creating the fiery and colorful streaks we call meteor showers.

Most meteor showers originate from comets. The Quadrantids, however, originate from an asteroid – Asteroid 2003 EH1, discovered in March 2006 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search. It’s a small asteroid, taking more than five-and-a-half years to orbit the sun once.

Quadrantids radiant

The radiant – the point in the sky from which the Quadrantids appear to come from – is a no longer recognized constellation called “Quadrans Muralis,” named by French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. The former constellation is located near the end of the handle of the “Big Dipper,” NASA said.

While the Quadrantids appear to originate from the constellation, they will be visible throughout the sky.

The Quadrantids were first seen in 1825.

Here’s NASA’s tips for viewing the Quadrantids and most other celestial shows:

“To view the Quadrantids, find an area well away from city or street lights. 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. In less than 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient — the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”

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