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Karl's Kolumn

HAPPY NEW YEAR FOLKS… I hope you celebrated among family and friends.

According to custom, humankind notes the first day of the year with a planet-wide party, including lots of food and beverage, and lots of fireworks. More fireworks overall when you include the galaxy populated by stars, planets, comets, spaceships and gaseous orbs.

And we have front row seats, this week.

Meteor shower to kick off 2024 with possible fireballs, shooting stars

By Emily Bingham ebingham@mlive.com

A new year of stargazing kicks off this week with a significant meteor shower peaking just a few days into 2024.

The Quadrantids meteor shower [active from Dec. 26 to Jan. 16] rambles along each year for several weeks in December and January, but it has a sharp and short-lived peak typically around the turning of the new year. In 2024 the Quadrantids will hit maximum activity overnight on the night of Jan. 3 into the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 4, with the best meteor rates for North American viewers predicted between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., according to the American Meteor Society.

Despite being capable of producing 100-plus meteors per hour under optimal conditions, the Quadrantids shower can be overlooked because its peak is so brief — not to mention it falls during a time of year not always associated with spectacular stargazing weather. And with the moon about half full on this year’s peak night, some meteors may be washed out due to the extra light in the sky. But sky watchers under clear skies could still be treated to up to 20 meteors per hour and possibly even fireballs, which this shower is known for producing, the AMS says.

Commonly known as “shooting stars,” meteors are streaks of light in the sky that are created when meteoroids — fragments of asteroids or comets — come into contact with Earth’s atmosphere. Meteor showers typically happen when Earth passes through a large band of these space fragments, with the shower’s “peak” happening when our planet is expected to encounter the greatest number of them.

In this case, the Quadrantids main parent object is an asteroid named 2003 EH1 believed to be a dormant or extinct comet, according to the astronomy site EarthSky. Like most meteor showers, the Quadrantids are named after the constellation from which they appear to originate — but their namesake comes from the now-obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis, which is not recognized by the International Astronomical Union as one of the 88 modern constellations.

It’s worth noting that this is the last major meteor shower until the Lyrids light up our skies in April 2024, so dedicated stargazers might want to make the extra effort to catch the Quadrantids’ peak.

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