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Sky Watch: Meteors light up New Year

If you missed the Geminids meteor shower of mid-December -- and most of us did because of bright moonlight -- you've got another chance. Not with the Geminids; they won't return until next December, but with the Quadrantid shower, which peaks on the night and morning of January 3/4, 2012.

about 2 a.m. on Jan. 4, and the best times to view it are during the few hours around that time. Now the moon may still appear in your sky, but it should be setting lower in the west and provide only a little interference. Astronomers predict an hourly rate of 100 to 120 meteors might be visible to viewers away from city lights, and that's every bit as good as a moonless Geminid shower of mid-December.

The Quadrantids appear to radiate from a point just north of the constellation Bootes, high in the eastern sky after midnight. Bootes, the herdsman, looks more like a kite with the bright yellowish-orange star Arcturus marking its tail. One can also imagine that it's shaped like an arrow, which conveniently aims toward the shower's radiant.

part of the shower. If they don't, they're "sporadic" meteors caused by the many random dust particles scattered around our part of the solar system.2012 is filled with amazing celestial events you won't want to miss, so my recommendation is this: Bundle up and head out to a dark-sky site for a meteor shower to celebrate the beginning of an exciting new year!

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