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The new year kicks off with the Quadrantids, one of 12 annual meteor showers.
The celestial event is typically among the strongest meteor showers and is expected to peak overnight January 3 and 4, according to the American Meteor Society. Sky-gazers in the Northern Hemisphere can best view the shower between the late-night hours of Tuesday and dawn on Wednesday.
However, the shower is notoriously hard to observe due to its brief peak of six hours and January’s often inclement weather in the Northern Hemisphere. A bright, nearly full moon will make the Quadrantids even less visible this year.
Moonset will occur just before dawn, providing a very small window to spot the shower against dark skies.
Predictions for the shower’s peak range from 10:40 p.m. to 1:40 a.m. ET (3:40 a.m. to 6:40 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time). The later time favors those in the eastern part of North America and the earlier time is more favorable for observers across Europe. The Quadrantids won’t be visible in the Southern Hemisphere because the shower’s radiant point doesn’t rise that high in its sky before dawn.
Check Time and Date’s site to see what your chances are like to view the event, or step outside to take a look for yourself. The Virtual Telescope Project will also have a live stream of the shower over Rome.
What you’ll see
Between 50 and 100 meteors are typically visible per hour, especially in rural areas, although the peak can include up to 120 visible meteors in an hour.
Watch the northeastern sky, and look about halfway up. You may even glimpse some fireballs during the meteor shower. View the skies for at least an hour, the American Meteor Society advises.
If you live in an urban area, you may want to drive to a place that isn’t full of bright city lights. If you’re able to find an area unaffected by light pollution, meteors could be visible every couple of minutes from late evening until dawn.
Find an open area with a wide view of the sky. Make sure you have a chair or blanket so you can look straight up. And give your eyes about 20 to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness — without looking at your phone — so the meteors will be easier to spot.
If the meteor shower’s name sounds odd, it’s probably because it doesn’t sound like it’s related to a constellation, like other meteor showers. That’s because the Quadrantids’ namesake constellation no longer exists — at least, not as a recognized constellation.
The constellation Quadrans Muralis, first observed and noted in 1795 between Boötes and Draco, is no longer included in the International Astronomical Union’s list of modern constellations because it’s considered obsolete and isn’t used as a landmark for celestial navigation anymore, according to EarthSky.
Like the Geminid meteor shower, the Quadrantid comes from a mysterious asteroid or “rock comet,” rather than an icy comet, which is unusual. This particular asteroid is 2003 EH1, which takes 5.52 years to complete one orbit around the sun. The shower’s peak is short because only a small stream of particles interacts with our atmosphere, and the stream occurs at a perpendicular angle. Each year, Earth passes through this debris trail for a short time.
Catch a comet, too
In addition to the meteor shower, a recently discovered comet will soon make its appearance in January’s night sky.
Discovered in March 2022, the comet will make its closest approach to the sun on January 12, according to NASA. The comet, spotted by astronomers using the Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, is named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) and will make its closest pass of Earth on February 2.
The comet should be visible through binoculars in the morning sky for sky-watchers in the Northern Hemisphere during most of January and those in the Southern Hemisphere in early February, according to NASA.
Here are the rest of 2023’s top sky events, so you can have your binoculars and telescope ready.
Mark your calendar with the peak dates of other showers to watch in 2023:
- Lyrids: April 22-23
- Eta Aquariids: May 5-6
- Southern delta Aquariids: July 30-31
- Alpha Capricornids: July 30-31
- Perseids: August 12-13
- Orionids: October 20-21
- Southern Taurids: November 4-5
- Northern Taurids: November 11-12
- Leonids: November 17-18
- Geminids: December 13-14
- Ursids: December 21-22
Full moons and supermoons
Most years, there are 12 full moons — one for each month. But in 2023, there will be 13 full moons, with two occurring in August.
The second full moon in one month is known as a blue moon, like the phrase “once in a blue moon,” according to NASA. Typically, full moons occur every 29 days, while most months in our calendar last 30 or 31 days, so the months and moon phases don’t always align. This results in a blue moon about every 2.5 years.
The two full moons in August can also be considered supermoons, according to EarthSky