The Quadrantid meteor shower is always the first meteor shower of the new year, and is typically very active. Despite its intensity, however, the event can be difficult to observe. The meteor shower lasts only six hours, giving observers a relatively short window to watch.
The Quadrantids are brief because they originate from asteroid 2003 EH1, unlike most meteor showers that originate from comets. Adding to the thinner stream of particles from an asteroid, the shower also hits the earth’s atmosphere at a specific angle.
This year will be a particularly strange one for observing the Quadrantids because of an exceptionally dark night sky but a daytime peak. On January 2, the new moon will be synchronized with the sun, rising and setting at the same time, thus leaving the night sky dark for meteor observations.
Unfortunately, the peak of meteor activity is also during the day time for North Americans. The showers are predicted to peak around 21:00 UTC. Thus, the best time to observe the Quadrantids in North America, is actually during the early morning hours.
People who want to watch the Quadrantids should start in a dark location, as far from light pollution as possible after midnight. This is before the peak but some meteors should be visible. Astronomers report that during its peak, a single observer could expect to see 120 meteors per hour in a dark sky.
Different sources predict the peak for the meteor shower to be overnight on either January 2nd or 3rd – although the showers could possibly be visible from anywhere from December 26 and January 16.
Predictions for meteor showers are like weather predictions, and the shower may actually surprise us. It’s possible that even the peak of the meteor shower will turn out to be visible at night. In past years, some have even seen bits of the Quadrantids in the southern hemisphere. The only way to find out is to get outside and watch the sky.
By Zach Fitzner, Earth.com Staff Writer