On the 3rd of January near 19h30m UT, the Quadrantids peak to provide one of the best annual meteoric displays of the year. The activity graph below is updated every 15 minutes – click for details.
What are the Quadrantids?
The Quadrantids are one of the finest annual meteor showers. They are caused by fragments of a comet that broke up in the recent past. Every year in the final days of December and the first two weeks of January the Earth crosses the stream of debris from the fragmented comet. The dust particles (meteoroids) hit our atmosphere at 41 km/s, burning up in the light phenomenon we know as meteors.
Every meteor shower gets its name from the constellation in which the radiant, the point in the sky from which the meteors apparently come from, is located. Thus the Perseids have their radiant in the constellation of Perseus and the Leonids in Leo. The name Quadrantids comes from the now defunct 18th century constellation Quadrans Muralis, located between Bootes, Hercules and Draco. The Quadrantids are a very strong meteor shower. The zenithal hourly rate at maximum reaches 120 per hour. Under a dark sky with the radiant high in the sky, one can expect one to two meteors per minute. The peak of the shower is fairly sharp, as the densest region of the meteor stream is comparatively narrow. This year the peak occurs on January 3rd around 19h30m UT. Good rates with several tens of meteors per hour can be seen for about 12 hours on either side of the peak.
Where and how can I see the Quadrantids?
The Quadrantids are best seen from the Northern hemisphere, due to the radiant’s position far on the northern celestial hemisphere. Some Quadrantids may also be seen from the tropics south of the equator, but the numbers will be low. In the Northern hemisphere observers have to contend with often poor winter weather, however, any clear winter nights also offer some of the darkest and most transparent skies of the year.
The Quadrantid radiant is low in the northwest in the evening hours, sets or is at it’s lowest* around local midnight. It rises further up in the northeastern sky in the morning hours, reaching its highest elevation just before dawn. The morning hours are thus the best time to observe the Quadrantids. (*The Quadrantid radiant is circumpolar north of 49 deg N, i.e. it never sets below the horizon.)
To observe the Quadrantids, you need to dress warm, bring a reclining chair and watch the sky. You need no other equipment. Also consider contributing observational data!
If you decide to do so, use the IMO major meteor shower observing technique. This way your data will be in a standard format, that can readily be used for analysis. Send us your data as soon after the observations as posssible.
Quadrantids in depth
The Quadrantids are one of the most interesting annual meteor showers. The first ever mention of the shower in historical records is by Antonio Brucalassi in 1825. Subsequently the shower was ‘rediscovered’ in 1835 and 1838. It was first recognized as an annual meteor shower in 1839 by Adolphe Quetlet of Brussels Observatory. It has been observed fairly regularly ever since. The orbits and dynamics of the shower have been studied since the mid-20th century, however, the most important findigs were made in the last three decades or so. It was determined by Babadzhanov & Obrubov (1987) that any parent object of the meteor shower may have been captured into its present short-period orbit 3200 years ago during a close encounter with Jupiter. Jones & Jones (1992) determined the Quadrantids are probably less than 4000 years old. Jenniskens (1997) further analysed the orbital scatter of the shower and determined the Quadrantids are a very young stream, the main, densest part was ejected only 500 years ago, with the background component about 3400 years. In 2003 a new asteroidal body, designated 2003 EH1 was discovered. Asteroid 2003 EH1 is the parent body of the Quadrantid meteor stream (Jenniskens, 2004). It is an extinct or dormant fragment, about 1.3 and 2.1 km in size, of the original parent comet of the stream. Brown & Weigert (2005) determined an even younger age of the meteor stream, possibly as young as 200 years (produced ~1800 AD). They suggest 3500 years as the minimum age for the background stream, consistent with findings by Jenniskens (1997). The extremely young age explains well the apparent absence of this meteor shower in historical records prior to 1825.
Good luck with your Quadrantid observations!