Our world may be full of cosmic wonders, but only a fraction of astronomical phenomena can be observed with the naked eye. Meteor showers, natural fireworks that are bright streaks in the night sky, are one of them.
The first meteor shower you can observe this year will be the Quadrantids, which have been active since December 28th and are expected to last until January 12th. They will peak between January 3 and 4, or Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
The Quadrantids, predicted by the International Meteor Organization to be one of the strongest meteor showers this year, are also one of the few caused by asteroid debris (the others are the result of comets). Best seen from the northern hemisphere, the shower is one of the hardest to catch.
Quadrantids have one of the shortest peak periods, lasting just six hours. And the time of year may mean cloudy skies and cold temperatures. The moon will be half full, which may make it difficult to see meteors.
Where does the meteor shower come from?
There's a chance you'll see a meteor on any given night, but you're most likely to catch it during a shower. A meteor shower is caused by debris passing through Earth that follows a comet or asteroid as it orbits the Sun. This debris, which can be as small as a grain of sand, leaves a bright stream of light as it burns up in Earth's atmosphere.
Meteor showers occur around the same time every year and can last for days or weeks. But there is only a small window when each shower peaks, which is when Earth reaches the densest part of the space debris. Peak is the best time to find a shower. From our perspective on Earth, meteors appear from the same point in the sky.
For example, the Perseid meteor shower peaks in mid-August from the constellation Perseus. The twins that appear every December come from the constellation Gemini.
Subscribe to Times Space and the Astronomy Calendar for reminders of meteor showers throughout the year.
How to watch a meteor shower
Michelle Nichols, Director of Public Observation Adler Planetarium In Chicago, it is recommended not to use telescopes or binoculars when viewing the meteor shower.
“You just need eyes and, ideally, a dark sky,” he said.
This is because meteors can shoot across large areas of the sky, so your observing equipment may limit your field of view.
Some showers are powerful enough to produce up to 100 streaks per hour. According to the American Meteor SocietyHowever, you probably won't see that much.
“Almost everyone is under a light polluted sky,” Ms Nicholls said. “You might think you're under a dark sky, but actually, even in a small town, you can have bright lights nearby.”
Planetariums, local astronomy clubs or even maps This one It will help you figure out where to get rid of excess light. The best conditions for catching a meteor shower are clear skies, without the moon or clouds, between midnight and sunrise. (Moonlight affects visibility in the same way as light pollution, blotting out fainter sources of light in the sky.) Be sure to give your eyes at least 30 minutes to see in the dark.
Ms. Nichols also recommends wearing layers, even in the summer. “You sit there for a long time and watch,” he said. “Even in August it gets cold.”
Bring a cup of cocoa or tea for even more warmth. Then sit back, look up at the sky and enjoy the show.