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Dublin: 5°C Thursday 6 May 2021

A meteor shower peaking tonight rings in the start of a busy year for stargazing

A supermoon later this month is the first of three in a row.

A meteor streaks across the sky in Croatia.
A meteor streaks across the sky in Croatia.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

A METEOR SHOWER that peaks tonight begins a busy year for celestial events that includes a ‘supermoon’ later this month.

The Quadrantids meteor shower is perhaps lesser-known than the Perseids and Geminids that happen in August and December respectively, but still gives a good chance to spot some shooting stars. 

The shower’s peak usually produces over 100 meteors per hour and is expected to peak tonight and into tomorrow morning. An exact peak time is difficult to predict, but between midnight and dawn is probably best. 

The reason the Quadrantids are not as well-known as some of the other annual events is because the peak is shorter than the other showers mentioned above, lasting hours rather than days. 

Spotting the meteors is weather dependent and cloud cover makes it next to impossible, but one factor in a spotter’s favour is tonight’s moon conditions.

There’s only a slender crescent moon this evening, meaning that moonlight won’t be lighting up the sky. 

Of course, getting away from artificial light will also make it much easier to see any meteors. But how best should I help my chances of seeing them?

Firstly, a good tip is to be patient. You don’t need any specialist equipment to see the meteors but your eyes do need some time to adjust to the night sky, 15 to 20 minutes is usually the best advice.

Thankfully for us, the Quantantids are best seen in the northern hemisphere and while they may be anywhere in the sky, looking north offers the best chance of seeing them. 

A good rule of thumb is to look towards the big dipper. 

PastedImage-79216 Source: Twitter/Earthskyscience

“The radiant point of the Quadrantid shower makes an approximate right angle with the Big Dipper and the bright star Arcturus,” Earthsky.com explains.

“If you trace the paths of the Quadrantid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from this point on the starry sky.”

Tonight’s meteor shower represents the beginning of a busy celestial month. 

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In a few weeks time – on 21 January – the first full moon of the year will be a supermoon. 

A supermoon is a particularly close new moon and is classified of such when the moon is within the 90% of its closest approach to Earth.

This year, the moon’s closest approach to earth is 356,761 km away. 

This month’s supermoon is the first of three in a row to begin the year and will coincide with a lunar eclipse that will also be visible in our part of the world. 

A lunar eclipse or ‘blood moon’ occurs when the moon passes through the earth’s shadow and has a reddish tinge because it is lit up by light refracted from the earth’s atmosphere.  

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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