The New Year’s Eve ball drop has come and gone, and now it’s time for Mother Earth to ring in 2015 her own way: The first meteor shower of the year this weekend could dazzle us with yet another slew of glowing orbs.
This is the time of year that our planet plummets through the cometary debris stream that generates the annual Quadrantid meteor shower, which peaks on Saturday night. It’s a tricky one to see, given that it peaks for just a few hours overnight on January 3–4, as opposed to a few days for other major showers during the year.
The good news is that it does so starting at around 9 p.m., before bedtime. The bad news, this year, is that the moon is just about full, so its light could drown out all but the flashiest of shooting stars.
However there are a couple of workarounds for this. For one, “There will be a window of darkness after moonset and before dawn,” says Earthsky.org.
The other workaround, as Space.com points out, would be to go to a vantage point where the moon is blocked, such as behind a building.
The other thing that makes the Quadrantids tricky is their origination point. The constellation they are named after no longer exists, according to Space.com. But they are visible throughout the Northern Hemisphere sky, and can at their best shower down 50 to 100 meteors per hour. NASA predicts 80 per hour this year.
The short peak is because the debris stream is thin, and Earth hits it at a perpendicular angle, NASA says. They fly in at 25.5 miles per second, which is nearly 92,000 miles per hour. And, fireballs!
“Quadrantids are also known for their bright fireball meteors,” says NASA. “Fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. This is due to the fact that fireballs originate from larger particles of material. Fireballs are also brighter.”
Though the shower peaks at 9 p.m. according to best estimates, the best time to look will be between midnight and 2 a.m. Saturday night to Sunday before dawn, says Space.com.
“During this time, the radiant will be close to the northern horizon and there is a good chance of seeing ‘Earth-grazers’—meteors coming in close to the horizon to the east and west,” notes Space.com. “As the night progresses, the radiant will rise higher in the northeastern sky, so that more meteors should be visible over a larger swath of sky, mostly in the east. By the beginning of dawn, around 6 a.m., the radiant will be high in the eastern sky. However, by then the shower will be 9 hours past its peak, and the bulk of the meteors will be past.”
In other words, blink and you’ll miss it—but show up anyway, and let Space wish us a Happy New Year.