Kick Off 2020 With the Quadrantid Meteor Shower's Celestial Fireworks

Monday, 30 December 2019 - 10:30AM
Space
Monday, 30 December 2019 - 10:30AM
Kick Off 2020 With the Quadrantid Meteor Shower's Celestial Fireworks
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NASA/JPL
If you want to observe the Earth's latest orbit but the thought of standing in a throng of people wearing disposable diapers waiting in the cold for a giant ball to drop makes you cringe, fear not: we have an activity for you that doesn't involve swilling dubious booze among the self-soiling...if you're willing to wait a few days. While 2020 heralds yet another election year for America, it also offers a second chance to see all the meteor showers you missed last year, assuming, of course, that you don't die. As an occasional Stoic, I urge you to consider that reality and be grateful for the awareness that you are enjoying this very moment. 


Still with us? Grand! If you're still here on January 3rd, 2020, you'll have the opportunity to see the first big meteor shower of the year: the Quadrantids, named for the constellation Quadrans Muralis, which is no longer officially recognized. In 1922, you see, the International Astronomical Union codified a list of officially-recognized constellations and omitted Quadrans Muralis. Yes, it does seem terribly arbitrary and unfair, but guess what? That's life. Even the stars are not exempt from such petty agonies. In any case, the Quadrans Muralis constellation still exists, but you'll want to look for the constellation Boötes, near the Big Dipper, as the radiant point of the shower: the Quadrantids are sometimes called the Boötids. Boötes contains Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in our sky, so it should be relatively easy to find. 


According to NASA, the Quadrantids come from asteroid 2003 EH1, thought to be either a dead comet or a rock comet. Rock comets are thought to be objects that resemble both comets and asteroids, though unlike comets, which outgas (release) ice, rock comets outgas rocky debris.


In North America, the moon will have already set, so with a clear winter sky, you should be able to see some pretty intense activity...if you're a night owl: the International Meteor Organization reports that the shower's peak will be at 12:20 am Pacific Time/03:20 am Eastern Time. "During its peak," NASA says, "60 to as many as 200 Quadrantid meteors can be seen per hour under perfect conditions," adding that the "Quadrantids are also known for their bright fireball meteors. Fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak." If NASA's description is any indicator – and it likely is – then staying up might be well worth it. 



However you decide to observe – or not observe – Earth's latest trip around the sun, we wish you a safe and happy new year.
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