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Celebrate the New Year with a meteor shower

Stormy skies and the glare of the nearly full moon may have spoiled our view of December's Geminids meteor shower but Utahns will get another chance to view a meteor shower when January's Quadrantids reaches its predicted peak during the early morning hours of Jan. 3.

According to NASA Solar System Ambassador to Utah Patrick Wiggins, "During the time of the peak, observers located away from city light pollution may see more than 100 meteors per hour." And as a bonus, the peak occurs when the moon is not in the sky, making rural skies even darker, increasing chances of a good show.

Now if only the weather will cooperate.

The Quadrantids and most other showers are best observed between midnight and sunrise as it's at that time the observer's place on Earth is more directly facing the oncoming meteoroid swarm.

Meteor showers get their names from the constellation from which the meteors appear. For example August's Perseids seem to pour out of the constellation Perseus and December's Geminids from Gemini. The same applies to the Quadrantids however their ancient constellation, Quadrans Muralis is no longer recognized.

"Many people call meteors falling stars or shooting stars," says Wiggins. "They're actually tiny specks of rock that burn up and turn to ash when they slam into the Earth's extreme upper atmosphere."

Telescopes and binoculars should not be used to view this or any meteor shower because they so severely restrict the observer's field of view. Wiggins notes that his favorite winter meteor observing equipment consists of nothing more than a lawn chair, sleeping bag and something hot to drink.

Some "Quads" may also be seen the morning before and the morning after the peak but their numbers will almost certainly be far fewer.

For additional astronomical information log on to Wiggins' Solar System Ambassador web site at http://utahastro.info.




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