Tonight – night of January 2, 2017, morning of January 3 – a possible meteor shower? The annual Quadrantid shower comes every year at this time. It’s nominally active during the first week of January and best seen from Earth’s northerly latitudes. However, peak activity lasts less than a day, and you need to be on Earth’s night side during the Quadrantids’ short peak. Who will see the shower in 2017? Hard to say. Different sources sometimes list different peak times for meteor showers. For the 2017 Quadrantids, we’re finding some agreement that the peak is due Tuesday, January 3 at 15 hours UTC; translate to your time zone here.
If the peak does occur then, the Americas will have better luck on the morning of January 3. Those in Asia should try the hours after midnight on the morning of January 4.
For all of us, some good new. In 2017, the waxing crescent moon will leave the sky during the evening hours. For all of us, the hours between midnight and dawn (either January 3 or 4) will be best.
Will you see any meteors? Maybe!
You wouldn’t think people would be so determined to watch such an iffy shower. The Quadrantid shower has such a narrow peak, lasting for only a few hours. If you miss the peak – which is easy to do – you won’t see many meteors.
But the pay-off can be good! The Quadrantids can match the meteor rates of the better-known August Perseid and December Geminid showers. The shower has been known to produce up to 50-100 or more meteors per hour in a dark sky.
Just know that this meteor shower favors the Northern Hemisphere 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 it’s not a globally watched shower, as many are.
If you’re thinking of watching the Quadrantids, do it. Meteor shower peaks are rarely a certainty. It’s nearly always a gamble that a shower will reward you with a good show.
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 only need a dark, open sky for an hour or so before dawn.
Bottom line: If you’re at a northerly latitude, try the Quadrantid meteor shower from late night January 2 to dawn January 3, 2017. If you don’t see any meteors, try from late night January 3 to dawn January 4. This shower can produce 50-100 meteors per hour, but its peak is short and sweet.