The New Year is here and everyone should look up and watch for the first shooting stars of 2015. The Quadrantid meteor shower has once again arrived and provides some of the most intense meteor displays one could hope to see. Arriving every January, the Quadrantid meteor shower appears to radiate from the constellation of Boötes, the Herdsman.
However, they are named for something completely different. In the late 18th century, there was a constellation in the same area called Quadrans Muralis. This star pattern, invented by astronomer J.J. Lalande in 1795 to commemorate the instrument used to observe stars in his catalogue, has long been obsolete but the name still services to this day.
The meteor shower itself was first reported in 1825 and later in the 1830s and several astronomers in both Europe and America noted these meteors afterward. Thus, the Quadrantid meteor shower was born and it has been reliably impressing sky watchers ever since.
Unfortunately, 2015 may turn out to be a rather poor year for viewing the Quads. This year, the moon will turn full on January 5, meaning the sky will be particularly bright making viewing more difficult. Others will also have cloud cover to contend with as they blanket the sky making viewing almost impossible.
Some scientist believe that this meteor shower could, in fact, be the remnants of an "extinct" comet and perhaps a comet that was recorded by Korean and Japanese astronomers in the years 1490-91. In 2003, Peter Jenniskens, an astronomer of NASA, found the asteroid (2003 EH1) that seemed like it was on the right orbit to have made the Quadrantids. Some scientists believe this asteroid could also be a part of the extinct comet that broke apart.
While viewing this year might disappoint many, 2016 is shaping up to potentially be one of the best viewing years we have seen. The moon will be in a waning crescent phase and will only be 29% illuminated. This will make seeing the meteors much easier in the dark sky.
If you still want to try to catch a glimpse of the meteor shower, NASA suggests you find an area that is far from the lights of the city. "Lay flat on your back with your feet facing northeast and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. In less than 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors", said NASA.