Fast Fact: The asteroid 2003 EHI is most likely a piece of a comet that broke off approximately 500 years ago.
This article is for all of you out there asking yourself where do meteoroids (pieces of space debris that become meteors when they burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere) came from. Well, astronomers asked that very question for quite some time. In fact, the source of the Quadrantids meteor shower (a meteor shower visible each January) was unknown until 2003, when NASA scientists published a discovery that these specific meteoroids actually come from the asteroid 2003 EH1. An asteroid is a space object made up of rock and metal that is smaller than a planet, bigger than a meteoroid, and moves around the sun. Once a year, Earth intersects this asteroid’s orbit at a perpendicular angle. When it does, debris, or meteoroids, from the asteroid burn up in the earth’s atmosphere, causing a meteor shower. Because Earth moves quickly through any debris from the asteroid, the shower is very brief.
Fact Fact: The Quadrantid meteors were named after the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis, which is Latin for Mural Quadrant. This is the Quadrants’ radiant (that part of the sky where the meteors appear to originate).
So now that you know about the Quandrantid meteor shower, you’re probably asking how you can prepare yourself for the next showing.
If you check out a Quadrantid meteor shower sky map, it will direct you to the northeastern sky in an area near the handle of the Big Dipper constellation. Unfortunately, winter storms commonly interfere with this fireworks display. Observers must be brave enough to face the cold and get up before dawn to see the show. Stargazers in Europe or central Asia are actually blessed with the best views. The shower is difficult to see from North America since the meteors streak from below the horizon during the early hours of darkness.
Article first published January 13, 2011.
Updated as of 27/05/2014 by Jessica Johnston
Feature image courtesy Yuichi Takasaka/TWAN.