Everyone loves a meteor shower. You don’t need a fancy telescope setup. All you need is clear weather, dark skies and a comfy spot. The first meteor shower peak of 2017 is almost here. Tomorrow morning, folks on the west coast will have a chance to spot up to a few dozen meteors per hour just before the sun rises.
Quadrantids aren’t your traditional meteor shower. They don’t last for weeks or slowly ramp up into their peak. It’s all or nothing for this January meteor shower. Miss out tomorrow, and your chances of seeing a Quadrantid burn out like tiny pieces of rock and ice striking Earth’s atmosphere. Timing is everything.
Tomorrow’s (Jan. 3) peak is expected at 9:00 am EST/6:00 am PST. Too late for folks living in the eastern two-thirds of the United States, but not those living on the west coast. For the best viewing experience, head out a couple of hours before the expected peak. Just lay back and take in as much of the sky as possible. The radiant point will be just below the ‘Big Dipper,’ but don’t worry about looking directly at it. A good rule of thumb is to lay flat with your feet pointed in the direction of the radiant point. The more sky you can see the better.
Since tomorrow is the day most people are headed back to work, you’re probably not going to feel like getting up a couple of hours early. If you live in an area that isn’t soaked in light pollution, head out a few minutes early and look up. The peak rate could hit 120 meteors per hour, but a couple of dozen is more likely. You should be able to see a handful in a few minutes.
Possibly the remnants of an extinct comet
The small chunks of ice and rock Earth floats into every January is believed to come from 2003 EH1, an extinct comet or rock comet. Extinct comets are what’s left most of the volatile ice melts away. It’s this ice that gives comets their tail or coma and their iconic appearance. Without it, extinct comets look a lot like asteroids. Just a rock floating through space.
Some astronomers suggest 2003 EH1 is what’s left of a comet recorded by Asian astronomers in the 15th century.
Because the peak is in such a short period, we know the stream of particles Earth’s orbit travels through is extremely thin.
What you’ll see
With a moonless sky tomorrow morning, the chances of seeing a bunch of meteors are high. And you might just see a couple of fireballs if you’re lucky. Quadrantid fireballs will appear bright yellow and blue, and some of them could leave glowing trails.
Even if you live on the east coast, head outside an hour or so before dawn. Peak timing isn’t exact. There’s about a six-hour window to see good meteors tomorrow morning. The moon won’t be in the way either. As for clouds? They won’t be doing me any favors (Alabama). Check your local weather to see if mother nature will be on your side.