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Meteor shower traced to 1490 comet break-up

Quadrantid mystery solved

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Astronomers have confirmed the origin of the Quadrantid meteors as a "deep-space explosion" of a comet in 1490 which was observed in China, Japan and Korea, New Scientist reports.

Fourteen astronomers last week tracked the shower's annual display during a nine-hour flight from California to the North Pole. Peter Jenniskens of NASA had previously followed up suspicions that it was caused by the debris of the 1490 event, in which observers spotted a comet "following a path similar to that of the Quadrantids", and which suddenly "flared up".

Jenniskens calculated that this relatively young stream would be narrow, and therefore "easily deflected by Jupiter's gravity". He predicted that accordingly it would "arrive a few hours earlier than if it were an older, more diffuse stream", peaking at 0200 GMT on Friday.

The astronomer's observations confirmed this. Apart from the Quadrantids, the 1490 exploding comet left a more substantial piece of debris - a near-Earth asteroid dubbed 2003 EH1. ®

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