Tonight one of the shortest lived meteor showers will happen and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will live stream an all-sky camera to share it with the world.
The Quadrantids 2012 shower has a very short peak that occurs for a few hours tonight and will only be visible in the Northern Hemisphere. Thanks to a waxing gibbous moon that sets around 3 AM local time here on the US East Coast we should get a couple of hours to view the estimated 60-200 meteors per hour.
Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. Dynamical studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see before dawn on Jan. 4 are the small debris from this fragmentation. After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth’s surface — a fiery end to a long journey!
The Quadrantids derive their name from the constellation of Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant), which was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco, Quadrans represents an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot stars. Even though the constellation is no longer recognized by astronomers, it was around long enough to give the meteor shower — first seen in 1825 — its name.