A little-known meteor shower named after an extinct constellation, the Quadrantids will present an excellent chance for hardy souls to start the year off with some late-night meteor watching.
Peaking in the wee morning hours of January 3 (Thursday), the Quadrantids have a maximum rate of about 80 per hour, varying between 60-200. Unfortunately, light from a waning gibbous moon will wash out many Quadrantids, cutting down on the number of meteors seen by skywatchers.
Unlike the more famous Perseid and Geminid meteor showers, the Quadrantids only last a few hours, so it's Thursday morning or nothing. Given the location of the radiant -- northern tip of Bootes the Herdsman -- only observers at latitudes north of 51 degrees south will be able to see Quadrantids.
Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. Dynamical studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see before dawn on Jan. 3 are the small debris from this fragmentation. After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth's surface -- a fiery end to a long journey!