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Hopes are bright for Wednesday morning's Quadrantids meteor show

January 3, 2012 |  9:40 am

Meteor shower

Think the New Year's Eve fireworks you saw were special? They're about to get some competition from Mother Nature -- a spectacular meteor shower headed our way.

To see it, you can stay up really late tonight or get up really early tomorrow morning. That's when the  2012 Quadrantids meteor shower is expected to peak, according to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Although not as famous as the Perseids meteor shower, the Quadrantids shower will nonetheless offer up "excellent meteor observing" from about 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. local time (regardless of the time zone you're in), according to NASA.

Named after a now-extinct constellation, the shower is expected to produce 60 to 200 meteors per hour, with an average rate of about 100 each hour, according to NASA.

Meteor shower "viewing should be great over most of the country," Weather Channel meteorologist Mark Ressler told USA Today. Exceptions are potentially cloudy spots in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes and parts of the Northeast.

The Quadrantids shower was first seen in 1825, NASA says. "Dynamical studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see before dawn on Jan. 4 are the small debris from this fragmentation," according to the space agency's website. "After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth's surface -- a fiery end to a long journey!"

Only the Northern Hemisphere will be able to see the Quadrantids meteor show, NASA says.

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-- Rene Lynch
twitter.com/renelynch

Photo: Leonid meteor shower in 2001 from Joshua Tree National Park. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

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