It doesn't last long but it could be spectacular. That is the best way to describe the 2012 version of the Quadrantids meteor shower. It peaks in a very narrow two hour window but promises 60 to 200 meteors per hour.
I know what you're thinking: that is a wide range of numbers of possible meteors. It is, and I certainly don't want to over promise on this event. Every year is different so we never know how many meteors we may see. Fortunately for us the peak of the Quadrantids is between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. tomorrow morning, Wednesday, January 4, 2012.
Look in the northeast part of the sky between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, January 4, for the best chance to see the Quadrantid meteors. Graphic courtesy of Sky & Telescope.
And that's the other problem with meteor showers. They are usually visible in the wee hours of the morning when most people are asleep. Plus, January nights are quite cold and meteor viewing requires long time periods of waiting patiently and looking at a section of the sky.
But if you can bundle up against the cold and want to be awake when most are asleep, look in the northeast section of the sky after Midnight tonight and see what you can see. The waxing gibbous moon will still be up in the west-northwest sky for part of the time, but it will set around 2 a.m.
It is best to lay back on a lawn chair and dress in layers. A cup of a hot beverage may not be a bad companion. And, of course, the darker the sky the better. So those of you away from city lights have the best chance for seeing meteors. The Quadrantids are leftover fragments from an asteroid and they cross the path of the Earth's orbit every year in early January.
Oh yeah, there is one more variable we can do nothing about: the clouds. Let's hope nature gives us a chance to view this brief celestial show.