Shooting stars beckon in the New Year this weekend. Here’s how to spot the fireballs of the Quadrantids meteor shower.

Quadrantid meteor shower
A meteor streaks past stars during the Quadrantid meteor shower in Qingdao, Shandong province, January 4, 2014.

After a harrowing 2020, we all deserve a heavenly spectacle to welcome the New Year. The Quadrantids meteor shower has just the right display in store.

The meteor shower peaks on Saturday night (January 2), sending up to 90 shooting stars streaking across the sky each hour.

NASA calls the Quadrantids "one of the best annual meteor showers." They're famous for bright fireballs, which leave colorful trails of light imprinted briefly on the night sky.

quadrantid
NASA’s All Sky cameras captured a Quadrantid meteor on January 4, 2016.

Most meteor showers come from the dust of a comet (a ball of ice and rock), but the Quadrantids are leftover bits of an asteroid (a bare space rock). 

As Earth orbits the sun, it crosses the orbital path of asteroid 2003 EH1  each January, plowing through the trail of debris that the asteroid has shed. These bits of space rock burn up in the atmosphere and emit brilliant flares of light.

Unfortunately, the waning gibbous moon, at about 84% full, will probably outshine about half of Saturday's meteors. In years when the skies are darker, the Quadrantids can produce as many as 200 shooting stars in a single hour.

How to watch the Quadrantids

stargazer telescope watch meteor shower
A stargazer waits for light clouds to clear to watch the Perseid meteor shower to begin near Bobcaygeon, Ontario, August 12, 2015.

While other meteor showers peak over a few days, the Quadrantids only give their best for about six hours. To catch that full glory, bundle up and get as far from city lights as you can. Find a comfortable spot to lay on your back with an open view of the stars. (Pro tip: A reclining chair is a stargazer's best friend.)

If possible, position yourself so the moon is out of your field of vision. That will minimize its overpowering brightness.

Wait 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. The celestial show should begin once night falls and last until dawn.

The shooting stars will radiate from the north, but you should be able to see them across the entire sky.

After the Quadrantids, the next meteor shower to look for will be the Lyrids, which peak on the night of April 21. 

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