Wish on a Quadrantid in the New Year

The year 2019 starts with a meteor shower, known as the Quadrantids. These shooting stars occur each year at this time, and in 2019 the Moon is out of the way so skies should be dark – if it’s clear! The Quadrantids have a sharp peak, which this year occurs at about 4 am on the 4th, but don’t be put off by this as there will be enhanced numbers of meteors throughout the night of January 3–4. You could also see increased numbers of meteors at any time from 1–6 January.

Quadrantid
A Quadrantid meteor seen in 2012

How many can you see?

The Quadrantids are one of the most active meteor showers of the year, and you might hear news stories claiming a rate of up to 120 an hour. But that’s what you might expect under perfect conditions, and the actual number seen even in good skies will only be a fraction of that number. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t see anything straight away.On average in dark and clear conditions you could see one every couple of minutes. But meteors come along at random, so you can easily have a long gap and then see several in quick succession. The key thing is to watch as much of the sky as possible, get away from buildings and lights, and be prepared to keep warm and stay awake if nothing much happens to start with!

Where to look

The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but they appear to radiate away from a point in the sky to the left of the well-known pattern of seven stars which we call the Plough (marked with a yellow circle on the diagram below). This is low in the northern sky in the early evening, but by the time of maximum it will be higher in the sky. Your best chances of seeing a meteor are to face the Pole Star, Polaris, which is around 50º above the horizon in the north, but do try to see as much of the sky as possible.

 The Quadrantid radiant
 The Quadrantid radiant

And of course it’s January, so wrap up well against the cold and try to observe from somewhere that offers shelter from the wind. For much more help about observing meteors, look at our online guide.