A little-known meteor shower is adorning the early January skies with bright explosions of light and color that can last longer than the average celestial streaks.
The Quadrantids meteor shower reached its peak overnight Sunday going into Monday, but there’s a good chance that skywatchers will be able to catch a good show, astronomers say. They’ll be most visible after midnight Monday in areas with limited manmade light.
The display is unusual as meteor showers go. Most are “tiny bits of stuff” tailing from a comet, said Kenneth Janes, a professor emeritus who taught astronomy at Boston University for 43 years. But the Quadrantids come from rockier material.
“It’s probably an asteroid that broke off into bits, orbiting the sun in a very narrow stream, like a swarm of bees,” he said.
The unique origin gives them a brighter appearance. Because they are made of larger pieces, they create more pronounced explosions — NASA refers to them as fireballs.
The Quadrantids come every January but this year have coincided with a darker sky and good visibility.
It will be difficult to see the show in Boston because of light pollution.
“If somebody wants to go out and brave the cold, get to a dark place,” Janes said. “You don’t need anything, you just need to look up.”
Most meteor showers are named after constellations, Janes said. This one, he said, appears to be named after the defunct Quadrans Muralis, now known as Bootes. NASA says the Quadrantids were first seen in 1825.
“It’s not one of those blockbuster meteor showers,” said Tom Bania, an astronomy professor at Boston University. However, he added, “unlike most meteor showers, this one is very sharply peaked.”
Forecasters say Monday night will be partly cloudy but very cold. The low is projected to hit 10 degrees, and there is a slight chance of snow in Boston. Those who see the Quandrantids are in for a treat, Bania said Sunday.
“We might see something pretty spectacular,” he said.-Asfar