Watch: Teaching Students about the 2020 Quadrantids Meteor Shower
Engaging resources for your classroom!
What is the Quadrantids Meteor Shower?
The Quadrantids are a meteor shower that occurs annually in January. This meteor shower is particularly unique because it was only discovered recently (in 2003), and the constellation that gave the Quadrantids their name no longer exists!
Usually, meteor showers happen when ice and dust from a comet enter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, causing brilliant streaks of light. However, the Quadrantids actually come from an asteroid, or a big “space rock” that is over a mile in diameter!
Comet, Meteor, Meteoroid, Meteorite, Asteroid — Those are a Lot of Words to Remember! What’s the Difference Between Them All?
Here is a glossary of cosmic terms that will come in handy when learning about this meteor shower:
- Comet: A big ball of ice and dust that orbits the sun. As comets approach the sun, debris break off and vaporize, forming a tail. Sometimes, you can see a comet when it is very far away from Earth.
- Asteroid: A rocky body that also orbits the sun. Asteroids are similar to comets, but they aren’t made up of ice and dust. Some comets become asteroids after all their ice has evaporated.
- Meteoroid: These are small bits of an asteroid that can break off when an asteroid collides with another. They can also break off from a comet as the comet nears the sun during its orbit.
- Meteor: Sometimes an asteroid’s or comet’s orbit crosses Earth’s. When this happens, Earth’s gravity can pull meteoroids from the comet or asteroid into its atmosphere. The meteoroids then vaporize and become meteors, causing a meteor shower, or “shooting stars.” They’re not actually stars though — just bits of ice, dust, or rock burning in the Earth’s atmosphere.
- Meteorite: Most of the time, meteors burn away completely before they reach Earth’s surface, but sometimes, they stay intact and make it to land. A meteor that makes it to the surface becomes a meteorite. Scientists like to collect and study meteorites to learn more about the history and composition of the solar system.
When can I see the Quadrantids Meteor Shower?
The shower is active from December 27 to January 10, but peaks on the night of January 3. During peak hours, viewers in the northern hemisphere may able to see more than 100 meteors per hour! No viewing equipment is necessary.
Your class can engage in some cosmic fun with this animation, Come Along with the Quadrantids Meteor Shower. Follow Asteroid as he and Meteoroid journey toward Earth, talking about the differences between asteroids, comets, meteors, and meteorites. Learn how fast meteors go as they burn in Earth’s atmosphere, and discover the biggest meteorite to ever land on Earth surface.
For further fun, be sure to download the Quadrantids Meteor Shower Coloring Page for your classroom!