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Quadrantids best before dawn January 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 relatively short peak to witness the Quadrantids. In 2016, we don’t expect the waning crescent moon to seriously obtrude on this meteor shower. So if you’re game, try watching between midnight and dawn on January 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.

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. Fortunately, the waning crescent moon shouldn’t intrude too greatly on the January 2016 Quadrantid meteor shower!

Moonrise 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 – from late night January 3 to dawn January 4, 2016 – 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 4, the waning crescent moon will be rather close to Mars, and you can use the moon and Mars to guide you to three more morning planets. Jupiter shines to the west of the moon and Mars, and the planets Venus and Saturn sit low in the southeast during the dark hour before dawn.

It'll be worth getting up in the wee hours just to see the lineup of planets. The green line depicts the ecliptic - Earth's orbital plane projected onto the dome of sky.

It’ll be worth getting up in the wee hours just to see the lineup of planets. The green line depicts the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the dome of 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 in the predawn hours on January 4.

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

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2016

Big and Little Dippers: Noticeable in northern sky

Arcturus: follow the arc

Bruce McClure

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