Historian Amanda Foreman searches the past for the origins of today’s world. Read previous columns here.
If you wish upon a star this week, you probably won’t get your heart’s desire. But if you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to an outstanding display of the Quadrantids, the annual New Year’s meteor shower that rivals the Perseids in intensity and quality of fireballs. The Quadrantids are exceptionally brief, however: The peak lasts only a few hours on January 2, and a cloudy sky or full moon can ruin the entire show.
Meteor showers happen when the Earth encounters dust and rock sloughed off by a comet as it orbits the sun. The streaks of light we see are produced by this debris burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.