Quadrantid Meteor Shower, Known for Striking Fireballs, to Peak at Weekend

The first major meteor shower of 2021—the Quadrantids—is set to peak this weekend.

The shower is active between December 27, 2020, and January 10, 2021, with the highest activity expected on the night of January 2-3, according to the American Meteor Society.

The Quadrantids have the potential to be one of the most spectacular showers of the year, with the possibility of seeing between 60 to 200 meteors per hour under ideal conditions, according to NASA.

The event is best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, but for observers in North America the show is often spoilt by poor winter weather.

In addition, the peak of the meteor shower is relatively short compared to others, with maximum activity lasting only around six hours rather than the usual two days.

On the peak night for the Quadrantids in 2021, the moon will be around 84 percent full, which could also make it more difficult to see some of the meteors—colloquially referred to as "shooting stars."

The best time to view the Quadrantids for those in North America will be during the predawn hours of Sunday morning as the meteor shower peaks—weather permitting where you are of course.

For the best views, head to an area away from light pollution and bring a lawn chair so that you can gaze up at the sky comfortably for an extended period of time. Within around 30 minutes of looking at the sky, your eyes will have adapted to the dark and it will be easier to see any meteors.

Quadrantid meteors appear to originate—or radiate—from an obsolete constellation known as "Quadrans Muralis," located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco. But you do not need to look at this point to see the meteors. They will be visible across all regions of the sky.

The Quadrantids are known for producing bright fireballs. These are essentially very bright meteors that can persist for longer than the average shooting star.

Meteors are the streaks of light we see in the sky when tiny fragments of space debris enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up at high speed. Fireballs tend to be caused by larger particles of debris than average meteors.

The term "meteor shower" refers to a celestial event during which numerous meteors appear in the sky, seemingly originating from a single point—known as the radiant.

These showers occur when the Earth passes through streams of cosmic debris left behind by comets, and on rare occasions, asteroids.

In fact, the Quadrantids is one of the few showers that is produced by asteroid debris. The parent object of the shower is an asteroid known as 2003 EH1, which orbits the sun roughly once every five years.

Some scientists think that this object, which measures around two miles across, may be an extinct comet.

A meteor above Israel
A meteor streaks across the sky above a camping site at the Negev desert near the city of Mitzpe Ramon on August 11. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images