If you happen to miss the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve, you can start 2013 off right with another light show -- the Quadrantid meteor shower.
Quadrantids will be zipping overhead from Tuesday to Sunday, but the peak of the shower is expected very early on Thursday, just before dawn. This shower can be as spectacular as the Perseids or the Geminids, with a maximum rate of about 80 per hour, but the Quadrantids' peak intensity will be short -- just a few hours.
If you're in the Northern Hemisphere and want to see the show, best to trek out to an area away from bright lights in the wee hours of Jan. 3. A waning gibbous moon will probably interfere with viewing, so 2013's Quadrantid shower may pale in comparison to that of previous years.
For those stuck in the city or south of the equator, NASA will also be livestreaming a view of the shower from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
There's some uncertainty about where exactly the Quadrantids come from. In 2003, one astronomer proposed that the Quadrantid meteors come from a rocky asteroid called 2003 EH1, but it's possible that this body may actually be an icy comet called C/1490 Y1, which was spotted 500 years ago by astronomers in Asia. Or 2003 EH1 may be a piece that broke off of the comet hundreds of years ago.
“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!” NASA writes.
Meteor showers are named for their radiants, or where they appear to originate from in the sky. This shower's name comes from Quadrans Muralis, a constellation between Draco and Bootes that no longer exists. Quadrans Muralis, named by French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795 for a device used to measure angles, was booted off the list of official constellations by the International Astronomical Union in 1922.
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