The first meteor shower of the year doesn’t waste time. It comes early, flares quickly, and disappears in a hurry. And it’s at its peak late tonight.
The Quadrantid shower gets its name from an old constellation. Quadrans Muralis represented an astronomical instrument used in the 18th century. When astronomers reworked the list of constellations in the 1920s, though, they dropped Quadrans Muralis. Most of its stars were incorporated into Boötes the herdsman.
By then, the shower had already taken the constellation’s name. That’s because if you trace its meteors, they all appear to “rain” into the sky from that region. So even though the constellation vanished, the meteor shower kept the name.
The Quadrantids form one of the best showers of the year. At their peak, you might see several dozen “shooting stars” per hour. Yet that rate lasts only a short time. That’s because the trail of “comet dust” that spawns the meteors isn’t very wide. So Earth plunges right through it — limiting the Quadrantids to a busy but quick showing.
For American skywatchers, this year’s Quadrantids should be at their best before dawn tomorrow. Unfortunately, the gibbous Moon will be shining brightly — overpowering all but the brightest meteors.
Even though it spoils the shower, the Moon does offer up a bit of a consolation. It’s close to Regulus, the heart of Leo, the lion — forming a beautiful pairing in the early morning sky.
Script by Damond Benningfield