The first meteor shower of 2019, the Quadrantid shower, will light up the night sky Thursday and Friday.
Here’s what you need to know about the year’s first celestial spectacle:
What’s in a name?
The Quadrantids are named for a constellation that no longer exists, according to EarthSky.org. The name actually comes from the constellation Quadrans Muralis or Mural Quadrant, which was located between constellations Bootes the Herdsman and Draco the Dragon, near the end of the “Big Dipper” handle.
What causes the meteor shower?
According to NASA, the meteor’s particles originate from asteroid 2003 EH1, a now-extinct or “rock comet” that takes 5.52 years to orbit the sun once. It was first discovered in 2003.
“It was either a piece of a comet or a comet itself, and then it became extinct,” NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com, meaning the comet’s ice and other volatiles have evaporated, the site reported.
Experts also believe the asteroid has some connection to the Comet 96P/Machholtz, which orbits the sun every six years.
How many meteors will I see?
During the shower’s narrow peak, you may be able to see up to 60 to 200 “ bright fireball meteors” per hour under perfect conditions. But it’s likely you’ll miss many of the fainter meteors.
The shower’s “fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak,” according to NASA. “This is due to the fact that fireballs originate from larger particles of material.”
When will it peak?
According to the International Meteor Organization, the shower will peak at 2 a.m. UTC (9 p.m. Thursday EST). Skygazers in Europe are likely to get the best views, “but viewers in North America might catch a few Quadrantids in the ramp-up to the peak,” Cooke told Space.com.
Where do I have to go to watch the meteor showers?
The meteor shower will be visible from the Northern Hemisphere, and best viewed from mid-northern and far-northern latitudes. NASA experts recommend finding an area well away from city or street lights for optimal darkness.
Do I need binoculars?
According to Space.com, binoculars and telescopes won’t help. That’s because those tools are designed to magnify and focus on stationary objects in the sky.
The naked eye will do just fine.
How to safely watch the shower
Some advice from NASA: “Come prepared for winter weather with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair. Lie flat on your back with your feet facing northeast and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. In less than 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient—the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”