NBCNEWS.COM - The first meteor shower of 2013 will kick off the year's night
sky events this week, giving stargazers a chance to ring in the New Year
with a celestial fireworks display.
The Quadrantid meteor shower is an annual meteor shower every January. While this year's "shooting star" show is not expected to outshine some of the more spectacular meteor showers of 2012, it may give stargazers with clear, dark skies a great start to the New Year.
"Those who brave the cold might see up to 40 meteors per hour,
although moonlight will make faint meteors harder to spot," officials
with the Hubble Space Telescope explained in a January skywatching video
The waning gibbous moon will be out in full force during the shower's
peak, but skywatchers in dark areas of the Northern Hemisphere during
the wee hours of Thursday morning might still get a decent show.
Scientists suspect that the meteors of the Quadrantids are debris
from the asteroid 2003 EH1 — the same source of the Geminid meteor
shower every December. The asteroid itself may be a chunk from a
shattered comet that broke into pieces several hundred years ago, NASA
officials said in a statement.
The Quadrantid meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through a
stream of debris from the comet. The fragments slam into the atmosphere
at 90,000 mph (144,841 kph) and burn up 50 miles (80.5 km) above the
planet in a dazzling display.
The meteor shower is named for the outdated Quadrans constellation,
which is no longer recognized by astronomers, NASA officials said.
"Located between the constellations Bootes and Draco, Quadrans
represents an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot
stars," they added.
However, the constellation was still relevant in 1825, when the meteor shower was first documented by astronomers.
Just in case you aren't interested in braving the cold, NASA is
streaming the shower for free online from Jan. 2 to Jan. 4. NASA's
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has a light-activated
camera pointed to the sky to record and live-stream the meteor shower
during its peak.
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