Quadrantid Meteor Shower Rings In 2020

The Quadrantids meteor shower, though fleeting, is famous for its especially bright, colorful "fireballs" (Luis Argerich / flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

How to Catch the Quadrantids, the First Major Meteor Shower of the 2020s

by Katherine J. Wu/Smithsonianmag.com

This week, the world will celebrate the start of a new decade on the Gregorian calendar. And there are few better ways to usher in 2020 than to turn your eyes skyward to witness the fiery debris of a wayward comet. The Quadrantid meteor shower will peak in visibility during the late evening of January 3 and predawn of January 4 in North America.

This narrow window, spanning just a few hours, might be a bit tough to catch without some serious dedication and a clear night sky. But even a brief glimpse might be worth the effort: Unlike many other meteor showers, the Quadrantids are famous for spitting out “fireball” meteors that blaze by in a dazzling array of unusual color and brightness.

First spotted and scientifically documented in the 1800s, the Quadrantids have an oddball origin story. Astronomers aren’t even sure where the meteors hail from. While Earth experiences most showers of this sort when it hurtles through the debris of comets—the solar system’s dirty snowballs—the Quadrantids were first thought to have been birthed from a body based more in rock than ice: an object called 2003 EH1.

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