Shop
Popular Astronomy

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Stumble It More...

Fri, 03 Jan 2014 - Early evening peak for Quadrantid meteors

2014 starts with a meteor shower, the Quadrantids, that has an intense but narrow peak on the evening of Friday January 3rd. The shower takes its name from the defunct constellation of Quadrans Muralis (the Mural Quadrant), which occupied an area at the top of Bootes, close to its border with Ursa Major, Draco and Hercules.
 
When seen at their best, the Quadrantids are one of the most active meteor showers of the year. 
 
Although some Quadrantid meteors can be seen throughout the first week of January, most of the Quadrantid activity is concentrated in a peak lasting a few hours on January 3rd and so we really want, if possible, to be observing the Quadrantids at that time. 
 
With this activity peak being so narrow, we need several factors to be in our favour to see it well:
 
- the peak needs to occur during the hours of darkness
 
- the Moon needs to be out of the way
 
- the radiant (the area of sky from which the meteors appear to radiate) needs to be high in the sky
 
In 2014, two of these requirements will be met:
 
- New Moon is on Jan 1 and so moonlight will not be a problem
 
- The peak is predicted to occur during the evening of Jan 3rd - at approx 19h UT - a Friday evening
 
The only downside is that this is at a time, from the UK, 
The location of the Quadrantid radiant
when the Quadrantid radiant is low in the northern sky and therefore some Quadrantid meteors will be missed due to appearing in the haze near the horizon or due to appearing below the horizon. The radiant climbs higher in the sky later in the evening and towards dawn, but the potential rise in observed rates due to increasing radiant altitude will be counteracted to some extent by the decreasing ZHR. 
 
The peak Quadrantid ZHR is usually in excess of 80 meteors per hour. However, don't be misled by some claims you may see on the internet that suggest that you will see more than one meteor per minute - the ZHR is the rate that would be seen from a very dark observing site if the Quadrantid radiant was high in the sky ... and few if any of us are lucky enough to have such an observing site. In practice, we will see lower rates, but if you choose an observing site that is dark and has a good view of the northern sky you should still see an hourly meteor rate in double figures. Look at an area of sky about 30 degrees from the Quadrantid radiant and at an altitude of about 50 degrees - the area of sky near Polaris would be one option. 
 
Given that it is January, do remember to wrap up well against the cold and, ideally, to observe from somewhere that offers shelter from the wind.
 

Added by: Tracie Heywood