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Quadrantid Meteors

January 2, 2014

The streams of debris that create meteor showers are spawned by comets or asteroids — chunks of ice and rock that lose material from their surfaces when they get close to the Sun. The parentage of most of these streams is pretty well known. But one is still a bit unclear — the stream that creates the Quadrantid meteors, which should be at their best the next night or two.

The leading candidate is an asteroid known as 2003 EH1. Shortly after its discovery a decade ago, an astronomer noted a similarity between its orbit and the path of the Quadrantids.

Some have suggested that the asteroid is a comet that’s lost most of its ice, or that it’s a fragment of a comet that broke apart several hundred years ago. Some have tried to tie it to a comet that was recorded by astronomers in Asia in 1491, which was bright enough to see during the day. And others have tried to tie it to a comet that was seen in 1385.

One recent study refuted any link between the asteroid and those comets, though — the orbits don’t appear to match up. Even so, 2003 EH1 remains the most likely parent of the Quadrantid meteors.

And the Quadrantids should be at their best late tonight here in the United States. The shower’s expected peak is actually during the daylight hours tomorrow. And although the peak produces a lot of meteors, it lasts only a few hours. So the hours before dawn are probably the best time to look for this busy but brief shower.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

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