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Quadrantid meteor shower, first of 2012, to peak tonight


An image of a rare early Quadrantid, captured by a NASA meteor camera in 2010.



The annual Quadrantid meteor shower, the first of 2012, will be visible briefly across the northern hemisphere tonight.

This year's shower will peak at around 2:30 AM EST, according to The peak is when the highest number of meteors are visible from Earth, with the best views available from eastern North America.

It is expected to last no more than a few hours, but "may end up being one of the best of 2012," said.

More from GlobalPost: Full moon expected to dull 2011 Perseid meteor shower

There will be a large, bright Moon tonight, however, which Spacedex warned could make the Quarantids harder to see. But "you should still be able to observe all but the faintest meteors," its forecast said, especially after the Moon sets at around 3 AM and before the Sun rises at 6 AM.

According to NASA, the Quarantids are fragments of a former asteroid known as 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. 4 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!

Astronomer Adrian West advises stargazers to find a dark spot as far from city lights as possible from which to watch the shower. The Quarantids should be visible to the naked eye, so a telescope isn't necessary, West told Universe Today, but a reclining chair is advisable if you want to keep your eyes on the sky for as long as possible.

Spacedex has a sky map showing where to look for the Quarantids in tonight's night sky. And if you can't face staying up, here's footage of the 2010 Quarantid shower:

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