New Delhi: A dazzling display of "shooting stars" kicked off the 2012 skywatching season early Wednesday thrilling amateur astronomers around the world with views of the Quadrantid meteor shower.
Usually one of the most dependable meteor displays of the year, the Quadrantid meteor shower peaked at about 2:30 am in a brief, but eye-catching, light show. Quadrantid meteors are the leftover crumbs of a shattered comet that broke apart centuries ago, NASA scientists say.
Unlike some of the more well-known annual meteor showers, such as the Perseid and Geminid displays late in the year, the Quadrantid meteor shower`s peak lasts only a few hours. The Quadrantids and Geminids originate from the asteroid 2003 EH1, which astronomers suspect was once part of a larger comet that broke into pieces several hundred years ago.
The small space rocks that become Quadrantid meteors hit the atmosphere at speeds of about 90,000 mph and burn up about 50 miles above the Earth, creating dazzling fireballs.
The Quadrantid meteor shower is named for the constellation Quadrans Murals (or Mural Quadrant, which was an early astronomy tool for observing stars), a pattern first observed in 1795 by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande. The Quadrans Murals is located between the better-known constellations of Bootes the Hersdman and Draco the Dragon.