The annual Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to produce the greatest number of meteors in the wee hours before dawn in early January. Best yet, there will be no moonlight to ruin the show in 2014. In fact, it’ll be a big challenge to catch the young moon and the planet Venus low in the western sky at dusk on January 2. The moon will set at early evening for the next couple of nights, providing us with moon-free darkness for meteor watching.
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. This 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.
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 – this otherwise tepid shower is sure to disappoint.
If you’re thinking of watching the Quadrantids, go right ahead. 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. Fortunately, yesterday’s new moon guarantees moon-free nights for watching the January 2014 Quadrantid meteor shower!
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, 2013 – for the world’s northerly latitudes. If you’re in Asia, you might try between midnight and dawn on January 4 as well. Who knows? Some of the Quadrantids meteors might be bright enough to dazzle you, even in bright moonlight.