Shooting stars to fill the sky in first astronomical spectacle of 2018

shooting statr

Shooting stars will fill the sky next week, in the first astronomical spectacle of 2018.

The annual Quadrantid meteor shower peaks in early January, producing as many as 50 to 100 meteors.

But unlike other meteor showers that tend to stay at their peak for about two days, the peak period of the Quadrantids is only a few hours.

This year, it also coincides with the Full Wolf Moon, which is a supermoon – the largest and brightest of 2018 – meaning it will be harder than usual to see the Quadrantids.

Here’s what you need to know about the first meteor shower of 2018:

When is the Quadrantid meteor shower?

a star in the rain © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc

The Quadrantid meteor shower runs from 22 December 2017 to 17 January 2018, with a sharp peak on the night of January 3.

It is expected to peak between 20:00 and 21:00 GMT, when sky watchers should be able to see up to 40 meteors per hour, according to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope mission team.

What is the Quadrantid meteor shower?

Named after the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis, the Quadrantid meteor shower is one of only two major meteor showers not originating from a comet – the other being the Geminids in December.

The Quadrantids are associated with an asteroid, known as 2003 EH1, which takes about 5.5 years to orbit the Sun.

The main difference between asteroids and comets is their composition. Asteroids are made up of metals and rocky material, while comets are made up of ice, dust and rocky material.

According to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke, 2003 EH1 may be an extinct comet.

“It was either a piece of a comet or a comet itself, and then it became extinct,” which means that all the ice and other volatiles on the comet have evaporated, he told Space.com.

Where to watch the Quadrantid meteor shower

Observers in the Northern Hemisphere are best placed to view the Quadrantids, provided the skies are clear.

Try to find a dark patch of sky, outside of town and as far away as possible from artificial lights, and give your eyes about 20-30 minutes to adjust.

Be aware that the brilliant light from the full moon may outshine all but the brightest Quadrantids.

How to watch the Quadrantid meteor shower

Binoculars and telescopes are not useful for meteor showers – your eyes are enough to see the shooting stars streaking overhead.

For the best view of the Quadrantids, astronomers suggest lying down on the ground and looking for the constellation Bootes.

The easiest way to find it is to look north for the Big Dipper. Then, follow the “arc” of the Big Dipper’s handle across the sky to the red giant star Arcturus, which anchors the bottom of Bootes.

Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society recommends keeping Bootes in your field of view, but looking slightly away so that you catch the meteors with the longer tails.

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