The year’s first meteor shower is upon us. The Quadrantid Meteor Shower is set to peak on January 4th, between Midnight and 2 a.m. Universal time (7-9 p.m. EST). Although the North American peak will occur at approximately 9 p.m. EST, the radiant will be very low on the horizon. For best viewing , look up between Midnight and 2 a.m., January 4th, your local time. If that won’t work, any time in the six-hour window around Midnight and 2 a.m. should yield some meteors, if other conditions are right. Be warned: Meteor watching is usually best on a clear, moonless night, and January 4th’s waxing gibbous moon may compete with the star show. Asia and Europe are predicted to have the best shows.
The Quadrantid Meteor Shower has been known to rival the popular Perseids and Geminids, in terms of number of meteors per hour, which can near 80. However, unlike those showers, during which meteors are sometimes visible for days, the window of time in which to view meteors is fairly brief.
What is a meteor shower?
Meteors occur when the Earth passes through streams of dust and debris from ancient comets which have entered the Earth’s atmosphere. (When the comet has flown close to the sun, its dirty ice evaporated and that, in turn, caused the comet dust to spew into space.) The Quadrantids are a relatively recent discovery (1830). Their name comes from a constellation that no longer exists on modern star charts. Their namesake, “The Mural Quadrant” has gone the way of other obscure and somewhat whimsical star patterns at one time known as “The Printing Office” and the “Northern Fly”.
How to watch the Quadrantid Meteor Shower
The Quadrantids should be visible with the naked eye in North America and other parts of the world. Sky watchers in cold climates should bundle up, grab a chair (ideally one with some neck support), and perhaps a blanket, head outside where you can see the largest patch of night sky possible (with as little city light as possible), and look up.
Because meteor showers can last for days before and after the projected peak, be sure to scan the skies during the surrounding days, if you can.
A thermos of hot chocolate is a great accompaniment for the Quadrantids.
This American Meteor Society page is a great site for exploring more about the Quadrantids and where and when to see them in your local night sky.