What is the Quadrantids Meteor Shower?
The first major shower of 2013 is the Quadrantids meteor shower. This annual shower has one of the highest predicted hourly rates of all the major showers, and is comparable to the two of the most lively, the August Perseids and the December Geminids. This celestial event is active from December 28th through January 12th and peaks on the morning of January 3rd. In relation to meteor showers, the peak is defined as the moment of maximum activity when the most meteors can be seen by the observer.
While the plus side of this annual shower is its ability to produce fireballs, and its high hourly rates, the downside is its short peak. Quadrantids has an extremely narrow peak, occurring over just a few short hours. The Quadrantids are also well known for producing fireballs, meteors that are exceptionally bright. These meteors can also, at times, generate persistent trails (also identified as trains).
Those living in the northern hemisphere have an opportunity to experience a much better view of the Quadrantids, as the constellation Bootes never makes it above the horizon in the southern hemisphere. This is great for those living in North America, much of Europe, and the majority of Asia.
Unfortunately, those of you living in Australia and lower portions of South America will have a difficult time observing the Quadrantids. Observers in higher latitudes will have better gazing conditions, but nevertheless will need to be wary of cloud cover, as conditions are typically cloudy during this time of year.
The Quadrantids meteor shower in 2013
This year, the Waning Gibbous (65% full) will coincide with the peak of the Quadrantids meteor shower. This a stark contrast to the Quadrantids of 2011, which occurred during a moonless night, but better than last year (Waning Gibbous Moon at 73%). While the light of the moon may reduce the quantity of meteors you'll be able to see, you should still be able to observe all but the faintest meteors. This year will be fine for obsevering this January event, so those willing to patiently wait it out in the cold (for those in colder environments) will be treated to the very first major meteor shower of 2013.
The radiant of a meteor shower is the point in the sky from where the meteors appear to come (or radiate) from. In the case of Quadrantids, its radiant lies within the now extinct constellation Quadrans Muralis. Unlike all the other major annual showers, this one is named after a constellation which longer exists. For example, the Perseids meteor shower, occurring in August, is named after the constellation Perseus. The Geminids meteor shower, occurring in December, is named after the constellation Gemini.
The constellation Quadrands Muralis was made up of a faint group of stars between the top of Bootes and the handle of the Big Dipper. Quadrands Muralis is now part of the constellation Bootes, thus making Bootes the radiant of the Quadnrantids meteor shower. To find the location of the radiant, we recommend you first find Polaris (a middling-bright star, also known as the North Star) and observe in close proximity to that area. For more specificity, it lies between the end of the handle of the Big Dipper and the four-sided figure of stars marking the head of the constellation Draco.
How do I know the sky is dark enough to see meteors?
If you happen to live near a brightly lit city, if possible, we recommend that you drive away from the glow of city light. After you've escaped the glow of the city, find a dark, safe, and possibly isolated spot where oncoming vehicle headlights will not occasionally ruin your sensitive night vision.
Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites. Once you have settled down at your observation spot, face toward the northeastern portion of the heavens. This way you can have the Quadrantid's radiant within your field of view. If you can see each star of the Little Dipper, your eyes have "dark adapted," and your chosen site is probably dark enough. Under these conditions, you will see plenty of meteors.
For many meteor showers it is often recommended to look straight up, but for this year's Quadrantids we advise that observers face as low as possible toward the horizon without being looking at the ground. In other words, have the bottom of your field of view on the horizon. While you can still catch meteors while looking straight up, you will have an improved opportunity to observe more by looking toward the horizon. Meteors will grab your attention as they streak by!
See local viewing hours
Meteor Shower name
Meteors Per Hour
30-50 per hour
2003 EH1 (Planet)
230* (RA) +49* (DEC)
Velocity of shower
40 kilometers per second
Shades of Blue
Active start date
December 12, 2013
Active end date
January 3, 2014
Date of peak in 2013
January 3, 2014