CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – A relatively unknown meteor shower named after an extinct constellation, the Quadrantids, will peak overnight tonight, January 3, 2016, and into the early morning of January 4, 2016.
The Quadrantids will either sizzle or fizzle for observers in the United States early Monday morning. The shower may favor the U.S., or it could favor Europe, depending on which prediction turns out to be correct, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Quadrantids are somewhat unpredictable, but can have a maximum rate of about 80 per hour, varying between 60 and 200 meteors per hour. A waning cresent moon will rise between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. local time tonight that will only have 38% illumination – so the meteors would only be slightly washed out by this year’s moonlight.
Where to look for the Quadrantid meteor shower:
The shower’s radiant, in the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis, is in a star-poor but familiar area in the northeast sky. It makes a triangle with Ursa Major and Ursa Minor – the big and little dippers.
Where to watch the Quadrantid meteor shower:
Given the location of the radiant at the northern tip of Bootes the Herdsman, only observers in Earth’s northern hemisphere will be able to see Quadrantids. Alaska and Hawaii are geographically the most favored for observing the short peak of this shower. The U.S. west coast will see more than further east across the continental United States.
When to watch January’s meteor shower:
U.S. Observers should begin looking at 08:00 Universal Time – which is midnight Pacific or 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time – and European observers should look 8 hours earlier at 00 UT. The peak should last about two hours, with rates of 120 meteors per hour predicted in areas with a dark sky.
The morning of January 4, 2016 in the United States
3 AM Eastern Standard Time
2 AM Central Standard Time
1 AM Mountain Standard Time
12 AM Pacific Standard Time
Where do the Quadrantid meteors come from?
Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. According to NASA, dynamical studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see before dawn on January 4, 2016 are the small debris from this fragmentation. After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth’s surface.
The Quadrantids derive their name from the constellation of Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant), which was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco, Quadrans represents an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot stars. Even though the constellation is no longer recognized by astronomers, it was around long enough to give the meteor shower its name.
Image and video credit: NASA/JPL