One of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year peaks on Tuesday and Wednesday, offering sky-gazers the chance to see dozens of ‘shooting stars’ illuminate the night sky.
The Quadrantids have one of the sharpest peaks of any of the annual meteor showers. This means the night of January 3rd will be particularly intense, with the official peak expected at 3 am GMT on the morning of January 4th.
The phenomenon is a result of the Earth passing through the debris left behind by the asteroid (196256) 2003 2003 EH1, which was first observed by Chinese astronomers more than five hundred years ago.
The spectacular show is renowned for producing bright “fireball” meteors leading to large explosions of light and color that persist longer than average for meteor streaks.
Anyone hoping to see the first major meteor shower of the year will not need any specialist equipment. However, clear skies are essential.
The meteor shower can produce over 100 meteors per hour
The Quadrantids can produce over a hundred meteors per hour at its peak, though a full moon approaching on the January 6th could obscure some of the less bright shooting stars.
The easiest way to find the shower is to look north for the Big Dipper—the distinctive group of seven bright stars and a useful navigation tool.
Then follow the ‘arc’ of the Big Dipper’s handle across the sky to the red giant star Arcturus, which anchors the bottom of the constellation Bootes, where the meteor shower will appear.
“For the best conditions, you want to find a safe location away from street lights and other sources of light pollution,” the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society said.
“The meteors can be seen in all parts of the sky, so it’s good to be in a wide open space where you can scan the night sky with your eyes,” it was added.