Weather forecasters are calling for clear skies over Northern Virginia Wednesday night. If you search the skies, you might get a look at a meteor shower.
The Quadrantid meteor shower is named for an extinct constellation, but the shooting stars that seem to sprout from it still arrive yearly, and the opening of the 2013 show began overnight Monday into Tuesday.
The Quadrantids is one of the lesser-known meteor showers of the year, but that doesn't mean it's anything less than spectacular. Take a look at this Quadrantids meteor shower video or these pictures of the Quadrantids.
While the shower begins overnight on the first day of the new year, NASA tells us Quadrantid meteor shower peaks in the wee morning hours of Thursday, when skies over Northern Virginia are forecast to clear, according to the National Weather Service.
A stubborn moon will wash out many Quadrantids, cutting down on the number of meteors seen by skywatchers, but with an average of about 80 per hour, clear skies should mean many of the shooting stars will still be visible.
Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. 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 Thursday 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 — a fiery end to a long journey!
More About the Quadrantids
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 — first seen in 1825 — its name.
Adolphe Quetelet of the Brussels Observatory discovered the shower in the 1830s, and shortly afterward it was noted by several other astronomers in Europe and America.
Spacedex.com says the annual Quadrantids shower has one of the highest predicted hourly rates of all the major showers, and is comparable to the two of the most lively, the August Perseids and the December Geminids.
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While the plus side of this annual shower is its ability to produce fireballs, and its high hourly rates, the downside is its short peak. Quadrantids has an extremely narrow peak, occurring over just a few short hours. The Quadrantids are also well known for producing fireballs, meteors that are exceptionally bright. These meteors can also, at times, generate persistent trails (also identified as trains).
Those living in the northern hemisphere have an opportunity to experience a much better view of the Quadrantids, as the constellation Boötes never makes it above the horizon in the southern hemisphere. This is great for those living in North America, much of Europe, and the majority of Asia.
Unfortunately, those of you living in Australia and lower portions of South America will have a difficult time observing the Quadrantids. Observers in higher latitudes will have better gazing conditions, but nevertheless will need to be wary of cloud cover, as conditions are typically cloudy during this time of year.