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| Astronomy Essentials on Jan 02, 2015

Quadrantid meteors fly in moonlight in early January 2015

You might see the 2015 Quadrantid meteor shower peak in moon-free skies just before dawn on January 3 or 4.

Quadrantid meteor streaking by Spica, Virgo's brightest star. Photo via Navicore.

The annual Quadrantid shower is nominally active during the first week of January, and is best seen from northerly latitudes. However, peak activity lasts less than a day. So you need to be on the night side of Earth when this shower exhibits its relative short peak to witness the Quadrantids. Moreover, in 2015, the bright waxing gibbous moon will wash out but the brightest Quadrantid meteors. But if you’re game, try watching between midnight and dawn on January 3 and/or 4.

This meteor shower favors the Northern Hemisphere. That’s because its radiant point – the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to radiate – is far to the north on the sky’s dome.

Plus the Quadrantid meteor shower is capable of matching the meteor rates of the better known August Perseid and December Geminid showers. It has been known to produce up to 50-100 or more meteors per hour in a dark sky.

So why isn’t the Quadrantid shower as celebrated as the Perseid and Geminid showers? It’s because the Quadrantid shower has a narrow peak that lasts for only a few hours. If you miss the peak – which is easy to do – you won’t see many meteors.

If you’re thinking of watching the Quadrantids, do it. Meteor shower peaks are rarely certain, and sometimes a gamble on a shower will reward you with a good show. Just be aware you might not see a whole lot of meteors! No matter where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the best time to watch is between midnight and dawn, local time. Unfortunately, the nearly full moon will severely subdue the January 2015 Quadrantid meteor shower!

Moonset and sunrise times for your sky

The radiant point for the Quadrantids is far to the north on the sky's dome.  That's why this shower is better for the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere.

The radiant point for the Quadrantids is far to the north on the sky’s dome. That’s why this shower is better for the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere.

The Quadrantid shower is named after the defunct 19th century constellation Quadrans Muralis. If you trace the paths of the Quandrantids backward, they appear to radiate from a point where this constellation once reigned in the sky. If you wish, you can locate the Quadrantid radiant in reference to the Big Dipper and the bright star Arcturus. Use the chart at the top of this post.

But you don’t need to find the radiant to enjoy the Quadrantids. You need a dark, open sky, and you need to look in a general north-northeast direction for an hour or so before dawn. That’s the Quadrantid meteor shower – before dawn January 3 and/or 4, 2015 – for the world’s northerly latitudes. Who knows? This shower can produce up to 50 or more meteors per hour, but its peak is rather short and sweet. Just before dawn on January 3 and 4, the moon will be rather close to the horizon and casting long moon shadows. Try sitting in a moon shadow and otherwise have an open view of sky. If you’re extremely lucky – and at the right place on the globe – perhaps you’ll see the shower peak in the moon-free (or moon-reduced) skies before dawn breaks on January 3 or 4. Click on the link below to find out when the moon sets in your sky.

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Bottom line: If you’re extremely lucky – and at the right northerly location on the globe – perhaps you’ll see some Quadrantid meteors, despite the overpowering moonlight, in the predawn hours on January 3 or 4.

Want more? Try this post. Everything you need to know: Quadrantid meteor shower

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2015

Big and Little Dippers: Noticeable in northern sky

Arcturus: follow the arc