A major meteor shower that produces a high activity, but rather narrow, peak
|Main Activity Dates||Jan 1 – 6|
|Peak Rates||Jan 3-4|
|Best Observed Rates||After midnight on Jan 3–4|
|Visibility each night (UK)||radiant highest around dawn|
|Moonlight (2020)||Waning Gibbous|
The year starts with an intense, but short-lived, meteor shower: the Quadrantids.
Although some outliers can be identified by imagers before and after the dates given above, Quadrantid activity is really only evident to visual observers between Jan 1 and Jan 6 each year, with the peak occurring at some time during Jan 3-4. The shower produces a good number of bright trained meteors.
The chart below shows the location of the Quadrantid radiant relative to the stars of Draco, northern Bootes and the Plough, with the UK horizon shown for around 22h GMT.
With the peak being so narrow, to see the Quadrantids at their best you need a high radiant, the Moon well out of the way, and the peak to occur during darkness.
In 2021 the peak is at 14:30UT and the Moon is high all night, so things won’t be ideal. The Quadrantid radiant, being located at Dec +49, is circumpolar for observers north of latitude 41 N and is lowest in the sky at around 20h local time and highest at the end of night. Few observers will have the stamina to stay out all night, but another option (for those who can drag themselves from their warm bed!) is get some rest in the evening of January 3 then observe from midnight until dawn with the radiant high in the sky.
Observed hourly rates will be lower than the ZHR value, but you can maximise the number that you see by choosing a dark observing site with a clear view of the sky. With the Moon up, a realistic rate is 20-30. Once the Moon sets it should improve.
Recent ZHR values:
Peak Quadrantid ZHRs seem to vary from year to year. In 2012, the peak ZHR only reached around 80, whereas in 2009 the peak was broader with the ZHR exceeding 100. The most recent year in which the Quadrantid peak was well observed was 2014. The IMO activity curve for 2014 suggests that a particularly strong return was seen, with the peak ZHR probably exceeding 150. Observations in 2015 were severely hindered by a bright Moon. The 2016 Quadrantids were better seen, but the IMO activity curve included no observations close to the predicted peak time of 08h UT – the ZHR had reached about 70 an hour before this time.