False-color image of a rare early Quadrantid, captured by a NASA meteor camera in 2010.(Photo: Bill Cooke, NASA)
By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
For astronomy buffs, the new year begins with the 'blink and you'll miss them" Quadrantid meteor shower.
Quads, as they are known, arrive between midnight and dawn on Jan. 3.
The showers have a short peak of just eight hours. Unfortunately much of
the nation will be in daylight when they hit, so this year only the
West will have much of a view.
The best viewing will be in Asia, so most of America will have to relive the event in photos.
Although visibility will not be great this year, the Quads typically appear as shooting starts in a crisp, clear winter sky.
Quads were first observed in Italy in 1825. They are named after an
obsolete constellation, Quadrans Muralis, created by a French astronomer
Peak time occurs from 8 to 9 a.m. Eastern, 5 a.m.
Pacific on Thursday. This makes the predawn hours Thursday the best time
to look for Quads in North America, said Bill Cooke, head of NASA's
Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in
The number of meteors per hour for the
Quadrantids varies from 60 to 200 per hour, with an average around 120.
Most Quads are relatively faint, so the presence this year of light from
a waning gibbous Moon will wash out many of these shooting stars, said
Alan MacRobert, senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.
the West the best for viewing the Quadrantids, we'll focus on the
weather for that part of the country: Most of the Western third of the
US will have good skywatching weather tonight, with clear to mostly
clear skies forecast, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Mike
AccuWeather reports that the best states for viewing the
meteor shower will be in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and
southern sections of Nevada and Utah.
The farther north and east
you are, however, the viewing will be less stellar. Some clouds are
forecast to cover the sky along the Pacific Northwest coast and over
much of Texas, according to an online cloud forecast map from the
Unfortunately, in Hawaii, where the meteors will
also be visible, cloudy and showery weather is expected overnight. In
Honolulu, the National Weather Service is forecasting cloudy skies
tonight and Thursday, with scattered showers likely.
peak is really the only time to watch them because the rate of meteors
striking the earth's atmosphere quickly diminishes. That's different
from most other big showers such as the Geminids and Perseids, which
have good rates for a couple of days centered on their respective peaks.
weather in the northern hemisphere and the proximity to the holidays
make this the poorest observed major meteor shower, Cooke said.
wasn't recognized as an "official" constellation by the International
Astronomical Union (the same group that "demoted" Pluto) in 1922, so
Quadrantid meteors appear to radiate from a point in Bootes the
Herdsman, he said. The meteor shower retains the constellation name,
even though it no longer officially exists.
The Quadrantids are unusual because they come from an asteroid, not a comet, as do most meteor showers.
thought that the asteroid, named 2003 EH1, is the extinct remains of a
comet observed in Asia back in the year 1490, Cooke said. Asteroids are
small, rocky bodies while comets are made up of ice and dust around a
Contributing: Doyle Rice