Every new year brings unexpected joys and disappointments. On Wednesday night, the Quadrantid meteor shower—normally a reasonably bright light show—is expected to peak. But, coming on the tail end of the Wolf moon, the first major meteor shower of 2018 might be harder to see.
The Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to be visible throughout the Northern hemisphere Wednesday night through Thursday morning, although the exact time is up for debate. While many years it is a spectacularly bright show, producing up to 50-100 meteors per hour according to EarthSky, this year’s will be darker. NASA predicts that this year’s shower will show up to 40 meteors per hour, but the light of the “Full Wolf Moon” will end up eclipsing many of them.
Meteor showers are named for the stars from which they appear to fall. So the Leonids are named after Leo, the Geminids after the Gemini, and the Perseids after Perseus. The Quadrantids are in an interesting position because they were named after a constellation that’s now out of date. While meteors appear to fall from the constellations for which they’re named, they are not actually the source of the meteors. And, what’s more, there’s no need to look directly at the radiants in order to see the meteors as they fall.
Unlike most other meteor showers, the source of the Quadrantids is believed to be the asteroid 2003 EH1. Most other meteor showers come from comets, formed by the dust left behind on past passage through Earth’s orbit. According to Space.com, 2003 EH1 may have been a comet long ago, now believed to be stripped of ice and other materials that make a comet.
While there may be fewer meteors to look at this year, the advice for how to watch remains comfortingly the same. If you can manage it, get yourself somewhere without any light pollution and let your eyes adjust to the dark for about a half hour.
If you’re watching from the Northeast United States or most places in Canada, definitely take a jacket. Given the weather, consider taking several jackets. Since the normal outlets don’t appear to be livestreaming the shower this year, that may be your only chance.
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