A friend sent me the link to this video of a spectacular ‘meteor shower’ over Colorado yesterday. It’s thought to actually be a Russian booster burning up in the atmosphere, but is nevertheless quite the sight. The news anchors, however, describe it as “meteors from an extinct constellation”. Meteors from an extinct constellation!? Meteor showers are caused by the Earth passing through clouds of tiny particles left behind by passing comets, and certainly have nothing to do with constellations. I can’t even imagine what they’re trying to say, and it seemed completely bizarre until a commenter at Bad Astronomy found this page. The actual meteor shower happening that night was the Quadrantids, and according to that Spaceweather site:
Quadrantid meteors take their name from an obsolete constellation, Quadrans Muralis, found in early 19th-century star atlases between Draco, Hercules, and Bootes. It was removed, along with a few other constellations, from crowded sky maps in 1922 when the International Astronomical Union adopted the modern list of 88 officially-recognized constellations. The Quadrantids, which were “re-zoned” to Bootes after Quadrans Muralis disappeared, kept their name–possibly because another January shower was already widely-known to meteor watchers as the “Bootids.”
The title of the page is ‘Meteors from an Extinct Constellation”, and it’s currently 6th in Google results for ‘Quadrantids’, which seems to explain everything. Still, you’d think somebody would have realised that out of context the phrase makes no sense at all. Wait, it’s a Fox News affiliate, you say?