Stargazers are guaranteed a good start to the new year as the Quadrantids meteor shower, which is expected to last from today through Friday, will likely be a celestial spectacular, Taipei Astronomical Museum specialist Astro Wu (
The Quadrantids, named after the extinct constellation Quadrans Muralis, usually appear between late December and early January and are one of the three major annual meteor showers [along with the Perseids in August and the Geminids in December], Wu said.
Meteor showers result when the Earth crosses paths with debris from comets, Wu said.
"Comets, which are made of ice and rocks, shed debris called `meteoroids' when orbiting around the Sun," he said.
Meteoroids scatter in comet orbits, he said, adding that when the Earth travels through particularly heavy meteoroid "streams," the rock particles hit the Earth's atmosphere at high speed and incandesce, producing meteor showers.
"Depending on where the Earth and the meteoroid streams converge, meteor showers appear to be falling from particular points, called `radiant points,'" Wu said, adding that meteor showers are almost always named after the nearest constellation.
"For example, the Quadrantids look like little stars dropping out between Bootes and Hercules, where Quadrans Muralis used to be," he said.
Drawing from International Meteor Organization data, Wu said that this year's Quadrantids will likely be at their most impressive at 2:40pm on Friday, peaking at 120 meteors per hour.
"Though the peak will occur during daylight in Taiwan, because of the thin, crescent moon and the brightness of the meteors this year, [people in Taiwan] can still see quite a good number of meteors per hour in the pre-dawn sky on Jan. 4 or Jan. 5," he said.
Although the Quadrantids sometimes produce impressive displays, the fact that they occur during winter and are sometimes obscured by moonlight means that this prolific meteor shower is not normally among the favorites of meteor observers.
"Observers close to the equator or in the southern hemisphere are disadvantaged in viewing the Quadrantids because of their geographical locations," Wu said.
Wu advised amateur astronomers and star gazers who wish to catch a glimpse of the natural fireworks to bundle up and drive away from brightly lit cities.
"Dark, secluded and open areas free of oncoming vehicle headlights are best, such as in the mountains," he said.
"Temperatures can vary quite drastically from one side of the mountain to the other," Wu said. "For example, Yangmingshan is usually warmer than its neighbor Tatunshan."
"For those down south, Alishan, Hehuanshan, or Yushan are prime observation sites," he said.
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