Dedicated stargazers are gearing up for the peak of the 2013 Quadrantid meteor shower, which will be best viewed from the Earth’s northern hemisphere in the wee hours of Jan. 3, according to NASA — but this year a bright moon may hamper the celestial show.
'The Quadrantids will present an excellent chance for hardy souls to start the year off with some late-night meteor watching.' — NASA
The U.S. space agency notes that the gibbous moon, which will be more than half illuminated, will likely wash out fainter meteors. Also, the first shower of the year will only last a few hours, meaning timing will be key for eager observers.
The agency notes that the draw of the lesser-known meteor shower, named after extinct constellation Quadrans Muralis, is nonetheless an "excellent chance for hardy souls to start the year off with some late-night meteor watching."
This is especially true for those watching under cloudless, dark skies far away from the lights of the city. The meteor rates are expected to increase after midnight, says the agency, and peak between 3 a.m. and sunrise, local time.
NASA also advises those hoping to watch the shower to go outside 30 to 40 minutes before viewing time to allow their eyes to adjust to the dark. It's also best to look straight up to "take in as much of the sky as possible," says the agency.
Stream the shower live online
Those cut off from the night sky or weary of the cold may watch the Quadrantid shower online. A feed from a camera at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is embedded below and also visible here.
The feed will go live at approximately 6 p.m. ET., or 5 p.m. CT in Alabama.
Video streaming by Ustream
Annual major meteor showers
Quadrantids: Visible each year in early January, this meteor shower appears to originate within the constellation Bootes. The meteors are often bright blue.
Lyrids: This shower begins every year in mid-April. The Lyrids can sometimes produce fireballs with smoky trails that can linger for a few minutes. They appear to come from the star Vega, in the Lyra constellation.
Perseids: Debris left behind from the 109P/Swift-Tuttle comet, which passes through the inner solar system every 130 years, is responsible for the Perseid meteor showers. The event begins in mid-July, but peaks in mid-August.
Orionids: Known to produce fireballs, these meteor showers will peak in late October with a maximum hourly rate of about 20. The yellow and green meteors are fast moving and come from fragments left behind by Halley's comet.
Leonids: The Leonids are visible every year around mid-November when Earth passes through the debris field left by comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. Leonids hit the Earth's atmosphere at 70 kilometres per second, or 255,600 km/h. That's about 133 times faster than an F-18 fighter jet can fly at top speed.
Geminids: The Geminids are known for their multi-coloured streaks and moderate speeds — they travel at half the speed of the Leonids — making them easy to spot. The shower peaks in mid-December, with an average maximum rate of 50 meteors an hour.