Readers in the southern hemisphere will likely miss the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower because of the light reflected by the current full moon.
Astronomers suggest that folk in the northern hemisphere, however, may fare rather better, with the high levels of activity visible on the nights of January 3 and 4.
The Quadrantids are named after a constellation that no longer exists – not because some cataclysmic event blew its component stars far apart, but because in 1922 the International Astronomical Union, the font of all bureaucratic records in this matter, left it off the list.
They were originally so named because they appeared to emanate from the constellation (although they are in fact associated with the orbit around the sun of an asteroid called 2003 EH1). For this reason, some people now call them the Bootids, in reference to the modern designated constellation known as Bootes.
For amateur northern hemisphere sky-watchers, thus, the point of visible emergence of the meteors can be found by identifying the North Star, also known as Polaris, and then, a little way to the right, the Big Dipper. Triangulate to a point below and equidistant to these two points.
Such accuracy is not really necessary, however. If the sky is clear of cloud cover, simply lying on the ground, looking up and vaguely northwards should be all the preparation needed to view the show.
The next major meteor shower, by the way, will be the Lyrids, in April.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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