Not gonna lie I always have a lot of trouble saying Quadrantids correctly. But don’t overlook this shower due to its name. It can produce as bright and prolific meteors as some of the other famous showers. However, it isn’t included with those groups because it has a very short period peak, lasting only hours. So you have to be observing at the right time. Now let me help you out with that.
WHEN is it?
Technically the meteor shower goes from January 1st to January 10th but the meteor shower peaks for only hours on the morning of January 4th. This is when the quadrantids become the biggest pain of all meteor showers. Unlike most meteor showers, during which your main concern is when the constellation is highest in the sky, the main concern of this meteor shower is catching the short lived peak. This peak is occurring around (not a perfect prediction) 8:00 UTC (3:00 am EST). So you have to find a good medium between when the constellation is visible where you live and when the shower peaks. So the western part of the globe kind of lucked out on this one. If 8:00 UTC January 4th is no where near when the constellation is up your local time (12 am to dawn), STICK AROUND; I have some solutions for you guys.
WHERE should you look?
Like most meteor showers the Quadrantids are named after the constellation they radiated from (Quadrans Muralis). Funny thing is that this constellation no longer exists. DUN DUN DUNNNNNN. Don’t worry a piece of the sky didn’t disappear. Just that back in 1922 when the International Astronomical Union was picking official constellations, Quadrans Muralis didn’t make the cut of 88 constellations…. rude. SO HOW DO YOU FIND THIS MYSTERY CONSTELLATION WHEN NO CURRENT MAPS SHOW IT? You can use a couple of guides; the easiest way to find it is to look near the tail of Ursa Major (or at the end of the handle of the Big Dipper). If you want a more specific answer, it is the piece of sky between Ursa Major, Draco, and Bootes. Now if you are not that confident with constellations, use use an app (like the one I suggested). I highly suggest this because everyone seems to think they know the Big Dipper but are usually just looking at random stars that kind of look like it. I say this as my mom just pointed to Orion the other night and told me look it is the Big Dipper. Now, pick the star Benetnasch and use the app to figure out where the constellation is. You can even figure out when it rises and sets. If you use the app I do, make sure you turn on sky object trajectories and use that as a guide for where the star (or constellation) will be at what time. It should be on automatically but in case it is not, it is the button on the upper right of the settings (as shown on the right). Remember to look around. These meteors will stay close to their radiant point but it can get frustrating focusing on one place for too long.
WHAT are the meteors made of?
These meteors are similar to the Geminids in that they aren’t from a comet but from an asteroid. More specifically, it is the debris for Asteroid 2003 EH1 that comes down every early January. This asteroid is thought to be an extinct comet, but there are many clashing theories on this hypothesis.
Now for those of you Southern/Eastern Hemisphere people who are upset that they are being excluded from this fun light show, I have a treat for you. You can watch the stream from the telescopes at Slooh and NASA MSFC. NASA’s stream is just from its center in Huntsville, Alabama, so the weather has to be permitting. However, Slooh switches between many telescopes it has rights to, so check that out. NASA has a constant stream so you can just tune in whenever you want. Slooh’s show begins at 8:00 pm EST on the 3rd and ends the next day. I recommend watching as close to January 4th 8:00 UTC as you can.
NEXT ON THE LINEUP: The Lyrids in late April