A Word Problem in Tonight’s Meteor Shower

Quadrantis, Quadrans Muralis, meteor shower, NASATonight’s meteor shower has an anachronistic name. It was originally named after the constellation Quadrans Muralis, discovered by Jerome Lalande in 1795. Well, “discover” may be the wrong word. Today, the International Astronomical Union no longer recognizes this constellation, rather the stars that were a part of it are now considered to be parts of other, more widely recognized constellations. Lalande named the constellation “Quadrans Muralis” after an instrument he created to measure star positions.

“Muralis” meant “wall” in Latin, and “quadrans” referred not to a square but to one-fourth of a circle, or the arc created by a 90 degrees of a circle. Here is a picture of Lalande’s tool. So we should say Lalande “created” the Quadrans Muralis constellation.

(Learn more about the names of stars in the sky here.)

Even though the constellation is obsolete, tonight’s meteor shower takes its name from it: Quadrantis. This meteor shower was named in the 1870s and originates somewhere near what once was the Quadrans Muralis. It’s called “Quadrantids” after the Quadrans Muralis with the suffix “-id” which means “descendant of or offspring of” in Greek. It falls every year in January in short, bright showers.

Learn more about astronomical phenomenon and how they are named here.

Tonight you will be able to see the meteor shower in the high Northern hemisphere, in Canada, Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Parts of the eastern and central United States may be able to catch a glimpse of the meteors between 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning EST.

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