NASA, SETI scientists to meet 2008’s most dazzling meteor shower on the wing

SETI Institute and NASA scientists will Thursday take their research instruments and their coffee for a 10 hour continuous flight to map what they say will be the earth's most brilliant meteor shower of 2008.

Scientists believe the Quadrantid meteor shower could flash over 100 visible meteors per hour at its peak, depending on location. Best viewing times with the highest meteor rates are expected to be in either the late evening of Jan. 3 over Europe and western Asia or the early morning of Jan. 4 over the eastern United States, the researchers said.

If you want to find out what the Quadrantid meteor shower will look like in your area, you can calculate the answer yourself with SETI's Fluxtimator Java Applet here: Choose the shower, the date, and a nearby location. Check your timezone. The applet then calculates the expected shower rate. Another tracking system is located here.

NASA and SETI researchers will fly in a Gulfstream V aircraft that will take off from San Jose, Calif., and fly 14 scientists and their instruments for 10 continuous hours at 47,000ft., over the Arctic and back to San Jose. The primary goal of the lengthy airborne mission is to observe the Quadrantid meteor shower in ideal and virtually unchanging conditions far above light pollution and clouds to determine when the meteor shower peaks and how the flow of meteors are dispersed.

The Quadrantid meteor shower typically begins every year about Jan. 1 and lasts for just under a week. Researchers theorize the Quadrantids were formed 500 years ago in a breakup event involving a near-Earth asteroid, 2003 EH1, and a comet observed in China in 1491, C/1490 Y1. Scientists will use their observations to better understand how and when it originated and how much Jupiter's immense gravitational pull influences the Quadrantid's orbit. They hope to use the information they gather to make more precise predictions of when future Quadrantid showers will peak, the researchers said in a statement.

Another potentially good shower is the more familiar Perseids, best seen in the early morning hours of Aug. 12. A calendar of meteor shower events is here.

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