We're only a couple of days into the new year, and skywatchers have something to look forward to in the late evening hours tonight, and the early morning hours on Sunday, January 3. The Quadrantid meteor shower reached its peak Saturday night into the early AM hours of Sunday morning. This could be one of the strongest meteor showers of the year, but we won't have ideal viewing conditions.
A bright waning gibbous moon will limit the amount of meteors visible from the ground. Other challenges could prevent some from being able to see the meteors, including cloud cover. The meteor shower also has a relatively short peak lasting only six hours. Ideal viewing hours in the northern hemisphere will be 2 a.m. local and dawn.
Viewers can expect between 50 and 100 meteors per hour with the best viewing in rural areas. The brightness of the moon will reduce the number of meteors seen. Those wanting to try and view the Quadrantid meteor shower will want to watch the northeastern sky and look about halfway up.
The Quadrantid shower could produce some fireballs, but mostly watchers will see what are typically called shooting stars. The American Meteor Society says that viewers should watch the sky for at least an hour. The Quadrantid meteor shower gets its name from a constellation called Quandris Muralis, which no longer exists as a recognized constellation.
The constellation was first observed in 1795 between Bootes and Draco, but it is considered obsolete and is no longer on the International Astronomical Union's list of modern constellations. The meteor shower will radiate between the Big Dipper and Bootes. The source of the meteor shower is a "rock comet" similar to the Geminid shower.