Stargazers will be able to catch a glimpse of the Quadrantid meteorite mood this weekend, which illuminates the sky with up to 200 shooting stars every hour.
The annual meteorite range runs every year between 28 December and 12 January, but in 2021 the best view in the UK after dark will be on 2 and 3 January.
The quadrants are known to produce between 50 and 200 meteors per hour on a clear night, and are described by NASA as one of the best annual meteor showers.
Meteors are pieces of rocky debris that penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere up to 50 kilometers per second, leaving behind streaks of light that we call ‘shooting stars’.
Quadranties in the Great Khingan Mountains in Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China, January 4, 2019
Quadrants are especially known for their bright ‘fireball’ meteors that let out large explosions of light and color that last longer than average meteor stripes.
This is due to the fact that fireballs come from larger particles of material, according to NASA.
Most meteor showers have a peak of two days, but the quadrantids have a peak window of only six hours.
“The reason why the peak is so short is due to the thin particle stream particles and the fact that the earth crosses the stream perpendicularly,” says NASA.
Quadrants can best be seen in the Northern Hemisphere, because their point of radiation – the point where a meteor appears to be formed – is so far north of the sky.
The easiest way to find the shower is to look north for the Big Dipper. Then follow the ‘bow’ of the Big Dipper’s handle across the sky to the red giant star Arcturus – it anchors the bottom of the constellation Bootes, where the meteor shower will appear
A meteor scattered past stars during the annual Quadrantid meteor shower in Qingdao, Shandong Province, January 4, 2014
According to the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), the peak is expected to take place on Sunday 3 January at around 14:30 GMT.
But exactly when it will peak, it is usually difficult to predict.
“The forecast was not thrown in stone,” Robert Lunsford, a longtime meteorologist at the American Meteor Society, told Space.com earlier.
“This one has not been nailed down yet. It works the way it wants to. ‘
If the IMO’s estimate is correct, people in North America – especially on the west coast and Pacific islands – will get the best views this year due to the time zone.
This is because quadrants can best be seen during the night and before the morning hours.
However, people in Europe can still see a glimpse of the weekend, as long as the weather is clear.
Quadrant time meteor crashes into Great Khingan Mountains in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China
Based on the IMO estimate, the quadranted Europeans can offer decent viewing, both Saturday night to Sunday morning and Sunday night to Monday morning.
“The keen observer should aim for the nights on either side – January 2-3 (as the meteor shower builds up) or January 3-4 (as it decreases),” said Tania de Sales Marques, astronomer at Royal Observatory Greenwich.
However, the waning moon will be on most of the night, ‘which is a bright source of light in the sky that will make it harder to spot the meteorites,’ she said.
According to NASA, quadrants reward the most patient astronomers.
“To see the quadrants, find an area far away from city or street lights,” says the space agency.
Come prepared for the winter weather with a sleeping bag, blanket or grass chair.
‘Lie flat on your back with your feet to the northeast and look up, taking in as much air as possible.
‘In less than 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adjust and meteors will begin to see.
“Be patient – the show lasts until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”
The easiest way to get a shower is to look north for the Big Dipper – the distinctive group of seven bright stars and a useful navigation tool.
Landscape of the Quadrantid Meteor Rain in the Great Khingan Mountains, Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China, January 4, 2019
Then follow the ‘bow’ of the Big Dipper’s handle across the sky to the red giant star Arcturus – it anchors the bottom of the constellation Bootes, where the meteor shower will appear.
The quadrants derive their name from the constellation Quadrans Muralis – wall quadrant, created in 1795 by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande.
They come from a small asteroid called 2003 EH1, with a diameter of only about three kilometers.
2003 EH1 was discovered on March 6, 2003 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search (LONEOS).
The asteroid takes an impressive 5.52 years to orbit the sun once.
Studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of comet that broke apart several centuries ago.