An unusually high number of shooting stars, as many as 100 per hour, will be seen in the U.S., Mexico and western Canada on January 3, as the Quadrantids pass over those areas. You can see them starting at 4 am Pacific time (7 am EST).

“The east coast of North America will be in bright morning twilight,” says Robert Lunsford of the International Meteor Organization. “Sky watchers there may miss the very best rates.” The closer you are to the west coast, the better you?ll be able to see them. “This is the best chance for North American observers to see this shower until the year 2009,” Lunsford adds.

To view these meteors, face north. In pays to start looking about an hour before they?re due. “The advantage of setting up early is that you could see a trickle of activity turn into a torrent of meteors,” says Lunsford. “The longer you watch, the more likely you are to witness a Quadrantid fireball,” which is as bright as the planet Venus.

The Quadrantids can be spectacular, but they are rarely noticed, because they last for only a couple of hours. Also, they come in January, when skies are often too cloudy for them to be seen.

Meteor showers are caused by debris from a comet or an asteroid, but astronomers have never been able to find the comet that produces the Quadrantid stream, so they think it may have disintegrated long ago, leaving only its dust behind. We know this happened to a comet last year, following a close encounter with the sun.

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