If you can bear the brutally cold wind chills in the teens early Wednesday morning before sunrise, you could be treated to the first great meteor shower of 2012. This will also be the first good shower to view in months because the bright Moon previously interfered with optimal viewing of other showers in 2011.
The Quadrantid Meteor Shower peaks early Wednesday, January 4th, particularly between 2 a.m. and Dawn. At this peak, as many as 100 meteors per hour could be visible! Our visibility should be pretty good in central Virginia with clearing skies and the moon setting around 3 a.m. Best meteor shower visibilities are always a distance away from high concentrations of man-made light. Those of you outside of the cities should see the most meteors. Here's a sky map of where to look (the point of origin from our perspective on Earth of the meteors...look northeast and up):
(IMAGE CREDIT: Starry Night Software)
Notice that the meteors appear to come at us from the constellation of Quadrans Muralis (in between Draco and Bootes), leading to the shower's name. The meteors associated with the Quadrantids originate from asteroid "2003 EH1," which itself is probably a broken piece off of a comet from several hundred years ago. This meteor shower was first documented in 1825. NASA expects the debris from that asteroid to impact Earth's atmosphere at a speed of about 90,000 mph, and disintegrate 50 miles above the ground.
However, please be aware that Wednesday early morning temperatures will fall into the teens and low 20s, with wind chills in the low teens. If you plan to watch this meteor shower for a couple hours, make sure you are well-equipped for the cold weather, paying particular attention to keeping your hands, feet, neck, face and head warm! Take extra blankets, water, snacks, and maybe some hot chocolate to enjoy while you stargaze. You can click here to read more about the bitter cold lingering through Thursday morning.
Other meteor watching tips:
*Allow at least ten to 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.
*Lie flat on the ground and scan the sky, not focusing on any specific point.
*Look for flashes of swiftly moving light from the northeast streaking across the sky. Some of these may appear to have various colors other than just a bright white.
Click here to post your meteor sightings at Carrie's Facebook Wall.