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Quandrantid meteor shower: The best time to catch it

Quadrantid meteor shower: With a  bright gibbous moon, the best time to view the Quandrantid meteor shower is between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. EST, before the sun rises.

By Joe RaoSpace.com / January 2, 2013

A Quadrantid meteor streaking over the volcanic island of Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands on Jan. 4, 2012 during the meteor shower's peak.

Roberto Porto/Space.com

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One of the best displays of "shooting stars" will peak overnight tonight and early Thursday morning (Jan. 3), but unfortunately will run into some stiff competition this year from a bright moon. 

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The celestial fireworks display is the Quadrantid meteor shower (pronounced KWA-dran-tid), which kicks off the annual meteor shower schedule every January. To paraphrase Forrest Gump: The Quadrantids are like opening up a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get!  Indeed, the "Quads" are notoriously unpredictable.

This year, the meteor shower is peaking while the moon is in its bright gibbous phase, just days after the recent full moon on Dec. 28, which may interfere with the cosmic light show.

The Quadrantids provides one of the most intense annual meteor showers, with a brief, sharp maximum lasting but a few hours. Adolphe Quetelet of Brussels Observatory discovered the shower in the 1830's, and shortly afterward it was noted by several other astronomers in Europeand America. [Amazing Quadrantid Meteor Shower Photo of 2012]

The meteors are named after the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis the Mural or Wall Quadrant (an astronomical instrument), depicted in some 19th-century star atlases roughly midway between the end of the Handle of the Big Dipper and the quadrilateral of stars marking the head of the constellation Draco. (The International Astronomical Union phased out Quadrans Muralis in 1922.)

NASA will provide a live webcast of the 2013 Quadrantid meteor shower each night this week through Friday (Jan. 4). You can follow the meteor shower on SPACE.com here courtesy of the NASA feed.

Difficult to see

Unfortunately, many factors combine to make the peak of this display difficult to observe on a regular basis: 

A brief peak period: The Quadrantids’ meteor rates exceed half of their highest value for only about six hours (compared to two days for the Perseid meteor shower in August). This means that the stream of particles that produce this shower is a narrow one — apparently originating from a small comet within the last 500 years.

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