Tonight (Jan. 2-3) is the peak of the 2013 Quadrantid meteor shower. Best viewing will be in the northern hemisphere, but the shower can be seen at latitudes north of 51 degrees south. Meteor rates increase after midnight and peak between 3 a.m. and dawn, your local time. To view Quadrantids, go outside and allow your eyes 30-45 minutes to adjust to the dark. Look straight up, allowing your eyes to take in as much of the sky as possible. You will need cloudless, dark skies away from city lights to see the shower. The maximum rate will be about 120/hour. However, light from the waning gibbous moon will wash out fainter meteors, so don’t expect to see this many. The peak rate of the Quadrantids has varied between 60-200, so its peak is not as consistent as other showers.
A little-known meteor shower named after an extinct constellation, the Quadrantids will present an excellent chance for hardy souls to start the year off with some late-night meteor watching. Unlike the more famous Perseid and Geminid meteor showers, the
Quadrantids only last a few hours, so it’s the morning of Jan. 3 or nothing.
Given the location of the radiant northern tip of Bootes the Herdsman only observers at latitudes north of 51 degrees south will be able to see Quadrantids. The map below shows viewing areas across the world. Green areas have good viewing, yellow areas have poor viewing and red ares will see very few or no Quadrantids.
The Quadrantids derive their name from the constellation of Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant), which was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco, Quadrans represents an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot stars. Even though the constellation is no longer recognized by astronomers, it was around long enough to give the meteor shower — first seen in 1825 — its name.
Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. Dynamical studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see before dawn on Jan. 3 are the small debris from this fragmentation. After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth’s surface — a fiery end to a long journey!