Pieces of celestial debris from a comet will put a fiery show after the moon sets
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Sky watchers are in for their first treat of 2012, as the short but intense Quadrantid meteor shower will light up the northern sky in the early morning of Jan. 4. The best time to see the shooting stars will be between about 3 a.m. and dawn.
NASA is setting up live video feed at this website.
In Frisco, the moon sets at 3:17 a.m., leaving a couple of hours of darkness for optimal viewing. For the best viewing, find a spot with an unobstructed view to the northern sky. Many of the meteors will appear to emanate from low on the horizon, so an open view of the lower part of the sky could be critical.
According to a NASA web page on the Quadrantids, there could be as many as 200 meteors per hour, though the average rate is about 60 to 100 per hour.
The Quadrantids are named after a constellation created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Quadrans represents an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot stars. On modern star charts, this radiant is located where the constellations Hercules, Boötes, and Draco meet in the sky.
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.
According to NASA, the shower originates from an asteroid, that may be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see before dawn on Jan. 4 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.
The Quadrantids have not been studied as extensively as some of the better-known meteor showers like the Perseids and Geminids, possibly because it’s best visible in far northern latitudes, where its appearance coincides with cold weather.
Another factor may be the short peak of the shower, which means some observers may miss it if they’re not watching at just the right time if they’re not in the right spot. According to meteorshowersonline.com, the shower can be hard to see because some of the meteors are faint, requiring exceptional observation conditions.