How to watch the Quadrantids tonight, 2021’s first meteor shower

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It isn’t just fireworks that mark the start of a new year, but also a meteor shower.

This weekend, keep an eye out for the Quadrantids, which — for those willing to brave the cold and fight sleep during the late-night hours — are known to put on a fiery display each January.

Read on to see how you can get the most of them — and start 2021 off with a blast.

What are the Quadrantids?

The Quadrantids kick off each new year with a stunning celestial display. It’s one of the best annual meteor showers, according to NASA. It’s known for shooting bright fireballs. As opposed to the quick flash of an average meteor streak, these sizzling fireballs produce larger bursts of light and color that remain visible for a longer period of time.

The difference between the Quadrantids and most other meteor showers lies in the fact that the Quadrantids stem from the debris of an asteroid, a bare space rock. The particles burn bright as they disintegrate and burn in the Earth’s atmosphere. Most meteor showers stem from the smaller dust of a comet — which itself is a ball of ice and rock, according to Business Insider

Each January, our planet meets the path of asteroid 2003 EH1 and orbits right through its debris. As its name suggests, the asteroid was discovered in 2003, and it measures roughly 2 miles in diameter. It takes some 5½ years to orbit the sun — a slower speed than it takes the Earth to do the same — and may be a “dead comet” or, according to NASA, a new “rock comet” object that’s being discussed by astronomers.

What time does the Quadrantids meteor shower occur, and when does it peak?

Although the Quadrantids are active between December 28 and January 12, they peak in early January each year. However, as opposed to other meteor showers — whose peaks can last for two days — the Quadrantids have a much narrower peak window of about six hours. The reason: The asteroid leaves just a thin stream of debris in its wake, which the planet hits at a perpendicular angle.

In 2021, the Quadrantids will peak overnight on Saturday into the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, Jan. 2 to 3. When there are perfect conditions, the peak can display between 60 to 200 meteors per hour. But there is one big caveat: The waning gibbous moon will be about 84 percent full, according to the International Meteor Organization — and that means its light could outshine about half of the meteors.

How can I watch the Quadrantids?

First, this being early January, bundle up before you head out — and take a sleeping bag, a blanket or a reclining chair with you. Then, venture as far away from any light pollution as you can.

You’ll want to lie flat on your back — or as close as you can — and look up. It’s best to have your feet facing northeast. And with the moon being so bright, find a place where you can put it out of your eyesight in an effort to minimize its shine.

You’ll also need to set aside a big chunk of time for the viewing, as your eyes will need 30 minutes to adjust to the dark.

When is the next meteor shower in 2021?

The Lyrids are next up on the meteor shower calendar, which will remain active between April 14 through April 30. If the Quadrantids end up being a dud, perhaps waiting several months will have its benefits. The Lyrids are set to peak between April 21 and 22, when the weather in the northern hemisphere will improve and the moon will be about 68 percent full.

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