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First meteor shower of 2016 peaks tonight: Watch online, right here

The first meteor shower of 2016 will occur in the wee hours of the morning on Jan. 4, and you can watch it live, right here.

The shower is known as the Quadrantids, and while it is not very well known, it can occasionally be quite spectacular. According to NASA, the Quadrantid shower could yield up to 120 meteors per hour during its peak.

Unfortunately, that peak is extremely short -- just two hours.

The exact moment when Quadrantid meteors are most likely to streak across the sky is hard to predict, so to see the shower in real life, observers on the West Coast should plan to look up after midnight Sunday evening, and keep looking until dawn Monday morning. 

If the thought of spending the night sky-watching in the January cold sounds daunting, don't worry -- you have other options.

The astronomy website Slooh.com is planning to live-stream views of the shower from its network of telescopes stationed around the globe beginning at 4 p.m. Sunday. The live broadcast is scheduled to continue throughout the night. 

With telescopes in five countries across four continents, there's a good chance you'll see a few meteors, as long as you have a little luck and a lot of patience.

Most meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a ring of dust and debris shed by a comet as it orbits the sun. However, in the case of the Quadrantids, the source body is an asteroid known as 2003 EH1.

Studies suggest that this asteroid was once part of a comet that broke apart. If that's the case, then the shooting stars we see each January could be the result of the small bits of debris from this fragmentation slamming into the Earth's atmosphere. 

If you do plan to watch the meteor shower in real life, the usual rules apply: Look for the darkest sky you can find, as far from city lights as possible. Give your eyes 20 minutes to adjust to the dark, and do your very best to keep from glancing at your cellphone -- it will ruin your night vision. Bring a sleeping bag and warm clothes, and perhaps a thermos of hot chocolate. Then lie back, relax and keep your eyes on the sky.

Happy sky-watching and Happy New Year!

 

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