The first meteor shower of 2023, the Quadrantids, is coming up — and it may be one of the most spectacular showers of the year.
The Quadrantids are active from Dec. 26 to Jan. 16 but will peak on Jan. 2 and 3. At the peak, viewers can expect an average of 80 meteors per hour streaking through Earth's atmosphere, according to NASA (opens in new tab). — although the shower could produce up to 200 per hour. Most notably, the Quadrantids are known for producing dramatic fireball meteors, which are longer and brighter than typical meteors because they originate from bigger pieces of debris.
The Quadrantids are the debris trail of an asteroid called 2003 EH1, which was discovered in the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search (LONEOS) in 2003. The asteroid is about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) across and may be the remnants of an extinct comet, according to a 2004 study published in The Astronomical Journal (opens in new tab).
Asteroid 2003 EH1 orbits the sun every 5.52 years, according to NASA. Earth passes through its debris trail at a perpendicular angle, meaning the peak period for showers of dust and tiny rock fragments is brief.
To best view this short-but-spectacular show, find a place away from light pollution on the night of Jan. 2 or predawn hours of Jan. 3 and lie flat to see as much of the sky as possible. (Bring a sleeping bag or warm blankets to stave off the cold.) According to NASA, the best viewing angle is to lie with your feet to the northeast. Let your eyes adjust for 30 minutes to catch even the faintest meteors.
The shower can be viewed from any latitude north of 51 degrees south, according to NASA, but the best viewing will be in the Northern Hemisphere. The meteors will appear all over the sky but seem to originate from between the constellations of Bootes and Draco, not far from the handle of the Big Dipper.
The shower gets its name from a constellation called Quadrans Muralis, which was named by French astronomer Jérôme Lalande in 1795 but is not recognized on the list of modern constellations kept by the International Astronomical Union. (If you want to try to find Quadrans Muralis while your eyes are adjusting, look at the space between Bootes, Draco and the handle of the Big Dipper. It's a triangular shape that is supposed to resemble a quadrant, a navigational tool used to measure angles.)
The next major meteor shower after the Quadrantids will be the Lyrids, which are active from April 15 to April 29 in 2023, peaking on April 22 and April 23.