A massive display of Quadrantid meteors last night, will be the biggest meteor shower of 2012.

Peak activity occurred early on Wednesday at about 2:30 a.m. EST and favored the eastern North America.

The Quadrantids (pronounced KWA-dran-tids) provides one of the most intense annual meteor showers, with a brief, sharp maximum lasting but a few hours. Adolphe Quetelet of Brussels Observatory discovered the shower in the 1830s, and shortly afterward it was noted by several other astronomers in Europe and America.

The meteors are named after the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis the Mural or Wall Quadrant (an astronomical instrument), depicted in some 19th-century star atlases roughly midway between the end of the Handle of the Big Dipper and the quadrilateral of stars marking the head of the constellation Draco.

Some astronomers jokingly refer to the meteor showers last nights as “The Santorum Meteors” – after the showing by Republican Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses.

The Quadrantids are not as well-known as some of the other annual meteor showers, but 2012 proved to be the exception.

For those in the eastern United States, the radiant — the point in the sky from where the meteors will appear to emanate from — was about one-third of the way up in the east-northeast sky. The farther to the north and east you went, the higher in the sky the radiant was. To the south and west the radiant was lower and the meteors will be fewer.

Quadrantid meteors are described as bright and bluish with long silvery trains. Some years produce a mere handful, but for favorably placed observers, this was a shower to remember; at greatest activity, according to Lunsford, “Eastern observers saw 70-85 Quadrantids per hour.”

Tariq Malik

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