Don't blink, you might miss the first meteor shower of the year. The high-powered Quadrantids meteor event should peak just before dawn Thursday with a maximum number of meteors per hour of about 80.
The meteor shower is expected to "last only a few hours," according to NASA.com.
The meteors are believed to be a piece comet that broke apart centuries ago. The fragments will enter the Earth's atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth's surface, according to NASA.
Mother Nature might working against some would-be Quadrantids viewers in Northern California. High clouds associated with a system approaching the Pacific Northwest overnight may hamper viewing of the meteor shower, especially north of San Francisco, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasters there say the best viewing times will be between 4-5 a.m. Thursday.
If clouds don't obscure the meteor shower, the glowing moon may outshine it. The meteor shower is peaking while the moon is in its bright gibbous phase, according to Space.com.
Novato briefly became the focus of the meteorite world in October 2012 as space rock hunters scoured streets, sidewalks and open spaces trying to find confirmed fragments from a fireball that disintegrated over the North Bay on Oct. 17. The meteor was seen throughout Marin, with several sightings in Fairfax. In all, six meteorites from that shower have been confirmed. About 40 people showed at a special meteorite identification workshop staged by astronomers in November.
Viewing tips from NASA:
- To view Quadrantids, go outside and allow your eyes 30-45 minutes to adjust to the dark.
- Look straight up, allowing your eyes to take in as much of the sky as possible.
- You will need cloudless, dark skies away from city lights to see the shower.
Like most meteor showers, Quadrantids is named for the constellation from which it appears to radiate. However, Quadrantids' constellation no longer exists. The constellation Quadrans Muralis, or Mural Quadrant, was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795 and was located between the constellations of Bootes the Herdsman and Draco the Dragon.
When the International Astronomical Union devised a list 88 modern constellations in 1922, it did not include Quadrans Muralis. So the meteor shower retained its name, though the constellation was rendered obsolete.
These days, Quadrantids radiates from an area inside the constellation Boötes, near the Big Dipper.
If the weather doesn't cooperate, you can watch a Ustream feed of the meteor shower on Jan. 2-4 on NASA.com.