Promising skies for Quadrantid meteors tonight
High pressure and clearing skies provide some hope that Marylanders will get a look at the annual Quadrantid meteor shower tonight.
The Quadrantids are one of the best showers of the year. They'd be more popular than the Perseids in August if it weren't so darn cold out there. And the fact that they occur this year simultaneously with the New Moon means moonlight will not dim the view.
According to Guy Ottewell's Astronomical Calendar for 2011 (has yours arrived yet?), the Quadrantids are active from Jan. 1 until the 5th, peaking tonight at 60 to 200 meteors an hour under ideal seeing conditions - dark, rural and cloudless skies. They enter the atmosphere at about 25 miles per second. European observers will have the best view of this brief peak.
The Quradantids were so-named because they appear to radiate from the obscure constellation Quadrans Muralis, in the northeast after 11 p.m. Look just below the end of the handle of the Big Dipper. (NASA sky map at left)
All the Quadrantids will appear to fly away from that point in the sky. The radiant will be highest in the sky in the hours before dawn, making that the best time to look.
Until recently, the origin of the Quadrantid meteors was unknown. They are now believed to be the remnants a disintegrated comet called 2003 EH1.
Forecasters are calling for "partly cloudy" skies tonight, with partly sunny skies Tuesday. Overnight lows will be in the mid-20s at BWI.
Colder temperatures are back for a while, with highs this week near 40 degrees- a shade below the long-term averages. Nighttime lows will sink to the mid-20s.
We'll see a couple of cold fronts slide by - a dry one late on Tuesday, followed by another on Friday. That one could spin up a coastal storm, and forecasters at Sterling have posted a 30 percent chance for snow on Thursday night, with more cold and windy weather behind it.
As always, if you venture out to watch, stop back here and share the experience.