Photo: Prokhor Minin
By Kevin Schindler
The new year kicks off with a bang as the Quadrantid Meteor Shower makes its annual visit on January 3-4. This shower can produce as many meteors as its better known brethren such as the Perseids, but, with a peak lasting only a few hours instead of the more typical day or more, the opportunity for viewing is limited. The Quadrantid meteors are also notable both for their outdated name and origin, whose identity has ties to Flagstaff.
Italian observer Antonio Brucalassi first noted this shower when he wrote in 1825, “the atmosphere was traversed by a multitude of the luminous bodies known by the name of falling stars.” The celestial streakers appeared to radiate from the constellation Quadrans Muralis, (the “Mural Quadrant”), a group of stars mapped by French astronomer and science popularizer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Since meteor showers are named for the constellation from which they appear to emanate, this one became known as the Quadrantids.
If Quadrans Muralis doesn’t sound familiar, that’s because it is no longer recognized as a valid constellation. In 1922 the International Astronomical Union, the governing body of astronomical policy including nomenclature, condensed and standardized the ...