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Mars and Meteors

January 3, 2016

A bright but brief meteor shower is at its best tonight. Unfortunately, though, the Moon isn’t far away from the center of the action, so its glare will overpower many of the meteors.

The Quadrantid shower is named for the extinct constellation Quadrans Muralis, the wall quadrant. Today, that region forms the border between Boötes and Draco. Although the meteors can appear anywhere, if you trace their paths, they all point toward that part of the sky.

The shower can produce up to about a hundred meteors per hour, many of which are quite bright. Yet the shower’s peak lasts no more than a few hours, with very little activity before or after that. So there’s basically one night to look for the Quadrantids — and that’s tonight, after midnight.

The Moon is down to the lower right of the shower’s focal point, so it’s a bit of a nuisance for meteor watchers. But it does point to another astronomical treasure: the planet Mars. It’s not far to the upper right of the Moon after they climb into view in the wee hours of the morning.

Today is the start of summer in the Red Planet’s northern hemisphere. As the season begins, Mars is farther than average from the Sun, so northern summer is milder than southern summer. It lasts for six months — until the Fourth of July.

Again, look for Mars near the Moon before dawn tomorrow. And if you have a dark, safe skywatching spot, take a shot at finding the Quadrantid meteors through the lunar glare.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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