The first sky-watching event of 2012 is expected to peak at 2 A.M. EST, or 0700 GMT on January 4, 2012. If you choose to stay up late tonight or wake up early tomorrow morning, you could be in for a surprise as an expected rate of 100 meteors per hour are expected from this years first major sky-watching event according to the official statement from NASA. Luckily for all of you sky-gazers, the moon is scheduled to set around 3 A.M. local time, so if clear skies prevail in your area, conditions will be excellent for watching the meteor show into the pre-dawn hours overnight.
The eastern half of North America is expected to be able to view as many as 50-to-100 “Quads” in a single hour, while the western half of the North American continent the display will be on the wane by the time the moon sets, with hourly rates probably diminishing to around 25 to 50 meteors per hour.
Map of location to view event:
Unlike the more well-known Perseid and Geminid meteor showers, the Quadrantids last only a few hours, so sky-watchers will have a much narrower window of opportunity to spot them.
Meteor showers occur when Earth travels through leftover debris from comets or asteroids traveling through our solar system. They are commonly referred to as “shooting stars,” because of the way they look streaking across the sky. The Quadrantid meteors originate from an asteroid called 2003 EH1, and were first documented in the year 1825. According to some studies, this cosmic body could be a piece of a comet that broke apart several centuries ago, and the Quadrantids are the crumbled remains of this comet, NASA officials said.
As Earth passes through, dust and debris will enter the planet’s atmosphere a blistering speed of about 90,000 miles per hour (almost 145,000 kilometers per hour). These fragments will burn up about 50 miles (80 km) above Earth’s surface, NASA officials said, giving us the light show.
Most meteor showers get their name based on the constellations from which they appear to streak through the sky. When we look at the so-called radiants, we are looking down the paths of the meteors that enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up.
Because of the location of the radiant, at the northern tip of the constellation Bootes, only northern hemisphere sky-watchers will be able to see Quadrantids.The Quadrantids were named after the constellation of Quadrans Muralis, the wall quadrant, which is located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco. Quadrans Muralis was named by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795.
The constellation represents an early astronomical instrument that was used to observe and plot stars. Interestingly, the constellation is no longer recognized by the astronomical community, but the name lives on with the January meteor shower, so we hope you enjoy the 2012 Quadrantid Meteor Shower.