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Quadrantid Meteor Shower Kicks Off the New Year

The annual show is known for producing long-lasting, bright fireballs from asteroid 2003 EH1

A Quadrantid fireball (Jimmy Westlake/NASA)

If you’re feeling down about missing last night's supermoon, another celestial event is just around the corner. The first meteor shower of 2018, the Quadrantids, will reach their peak the night of January 3 and early on the morning of January 4, reports Bruce McClure at EarthSky.

To take in the Quadrantids, however, dawdling isn't advised. As McClure reports, while the peak of other more famous meteor showers can last for 24 hours or even longer, the Q’s will only show off for a few hours. The shower often peaks with 60 to 200 shooting stars an hour, but as Andrew Fazekas at National Geographic reports, because it takes place near a full moon this year, only the brightest meteors will be visible.

The Quadrantids are a much less famous cousin of other annual meteor showers like the Geminids, Perseids and Orionids. Like these other annual favorites, the shower gets its name from the constellation the streaks appear to radiate from, but the Quadrantids namesake no longer exists. As Charlotte Smith at reports, French astronomer Jérôme Lalande created a constellation called Quadrans Muralis in 1795, which depicts a quadrant, an instrument used to measure angles, hanging on a wall.

But the International Astronomical Union did not include Lalande’s constellation in its official roster of constellations, which was adopted in 1930. Quadrans is now considered part of the constellation Bootes, near the Big Dipper. However, the name Quadrantids stuck, though sometimes the meteor shower is also called the Bootids.

As Josh Gabbatiss at The Independent reports, the meteor shower itself was first described by Italian astronomer Antonio Brucalassi who in 1825 reported that he saw the night sky “traversed by a multitude of the luminous bodies known by the name of falling stars.”

Under the right conditions, the Quadrantids can be pretty amazing. According to NASA, the debris that creates the shower comes from an asteroid, which is unusual for meteor showers, which are often the result of Earth passing through the tail of a comet. It's also possible the Quadrantids come from a “dead comet” or an entirely different type of orbiting body.

The form that causes such fiery streaks was just discovered last decade and is still being studied today. Spanning roughly 1.9 miles across, the body is dubbed 2003 EH1. Its trailing band of dust and rock produces more than its fair share of fireballs, bright meteor streaks that last longer than normal and can light up the sky.

Like with all meteor showers, it’s imperative to get as far away from cities or light sources for best viewing. But this year make sure to also bundle up appropriately—or even skip the show if wind chills dip dangerously low.

If you miss it, don’t worry; there are more astronomical and astrological wonders on tap for January. As Fazekas reports, the moon, Mars and Jupiter will form an interesting triangle on January 11. And on January 31, a Blue Moon rise, the second full moon in a month. This moon will also be a supermoon, which means it is particularly close to Earth. And that's not all: Sky watchers in the Pacific and on the West Coast of the U.S. will see this moon as a total lunar eclipse, which will turn the orb bright red. It will be the first time a Blue Moon eclipse has taken place in 150 years.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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