NASA is reporting the year's first meteor shower - visible in the USA.
The Quadrantid meteor shower is named for an extinct constellation, with the first visible shooting stars opening the 2013 show overnight Jan. 1 into Jan. 2.The Quadrantids are one of the lesser-known meteor showers of the year according to NASA. Adolphe Quetelet of the Brussels Observatory discovered the Quadrantids in the 1830s, and it was noted by several other astronomers in Europe and America later too.
While the show in the sky begins overnight on the first day of the new year, NASA reports the Quadrantid meteor shower peaks in the early morning hours of Jan. 4: "[T]he Quadrantids have a maximum rate of about 100 per hour, varying between 60-200. The waxing gibbous moon will set around 3 a.m. local time, leaving about two hours of excellent meteor observing before dawn."
Those living in the northern hemisphere have an opportunity to experience a much better view of the Quadrantids, as the constellation Boötes never makes it above the horizon in the southern hemisphere. This is great for those living in North America, much of Europe, and the majority of Asia.
The best way to spot the meteor shower is to look near the constellation Boötes. Find the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) then look a bit more north. The constellation Draco ("Dragon") has a "head" of four bright stars that look a little bit like the four stars that make up the cup end of the Big Dipper. "Up" between the end of the Big Dipper's handle and Draco's head, you should find the meteors.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration website gives this description of the history of the Quadrantids in astronomy:
"Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. Dynamical studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see before dawn on Jan. 3 are the small debris from this fragmentation. After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth's surface—a fiery end to a long journey!
"The Quadrantids derive their name from the constellation of Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant), which was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Located between the constellations of Boötes and Draco, Quadrans represents an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot stars. Even though the constellation is no longer recognized by astronomers, it was around long enough to give the meteor shower—first seen in 1825—its name."