The morning skies are this week set to be filled with hundreds of shooting stars in the year’s first meteor shower, the Quadrantids, according to Nasa scientists.
Amateur British stargazers will be able to view nature’s own “beautiful” firework display from space throughout much of the country depending on clear weather conditions.
Astronomers said Quadrantids, a little-known, but spectacular meteor shower, is due to start in the early hours of the morning tomorrow before peaking just before dawn on Friday.
Scientists say that during the annual shower, named after an extinct constellation, up to 200 shooting stars could be visible to the eye every hour.
This year’s show may be slightly more subdued because of the moon’s light and will be only visible throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including Britain. Experts say the average will likely be about 100 every hour.
Forecasters, however, say that cloud cover is set to be prevalent in many areas.
The Royal Astronomical Society said today that the meteor shower will be visible where the skies are clear – mainly in the north east and east of England, as well as north west and the Midlands.
It should be visible in the north west of the sky at an angle of about 45 degrees from the horizon, with it peaking between about 5am and 6am on Friday.
Keith Smith, a RAS assistant editor, said that it could be a “spectacular” show.
The Met Office said areas where clear skies are forecast tonight included north eastern parts of Scotland, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Lincolnshire.
Areas which are expected to have no cloud cover on Friday morning include eastern parts of England, parts of the north west including Cheshire and north Wales, as well as some parts of the Midlands.
According to Nasa, the Quadrantids come from the EH1 asteroid, which may have come from a piece of comet that broke up several hundred years ago.
The show starts as Earth passes through the debris field of the comet.
“After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth’s surface,” said a US space agency spokesman.
“[It] presents an excellent chance for hardy souls to start the year off with some late-night meteor watching.”
But for those who would like to watch the show from the comfort of their bed, Nasa will have a webcast using a camera mounted at the Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.
The Quadrantids derive their name from the constellation of Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant), which was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795.
Located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco, Quadrans represents “an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot stars”.