The first major meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantids, peaks on January 3, 2013. This famous shower is intense, short-lived with a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of up to 200 meteors per hour, but usually more of the order of 120. The high ZHR is comparable to the best of the other annual meteor showers, the Perseids and the Geminids. Unlike these well-observed showers, the Quadrantids are much more illusive; the shower is short lived, with a narrow peak activity window lasting only a few hours. Hence, the Quadrantids can be challenging meteors and it's certainly a fine start to the new astronomical year if you can glimpse even just a few of them!
Meteor showers are named after the constellation (or nearby star) where the radiant is located, but you may have difficulty figuring out the associated region for the Quadrantids; the reason is that the constellation no longer exists.
Today, the Quadrantids radiant is located in the northern constellation of Boötes, not far from the tail of Ursa Major. When the shower was discovered by Adolphe Quetelet of the Brussels Observatory in the 1830s, the radiant was located in the now obsolete constellation of Quadrans Muralis, hence the name "The Quadrantids".
Quadrans Muralis was originally created by Joseph Jerome de Lalande in 1795. This constellation, located in what is now the northern part of Boötes, represents the mural quadrant, a wall mounted astronomical instrument he used for measuring star positions. Although no longer recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Quadrans Muralis is one of the more widely known obsolete constellations due to its association with the meteor shower.
Since the peak of the Quadrantids is exceedingly sharp compared to other major showers, then the stream of particles that produces the shower must be relatively narrow.
The recently discovered asteroid 2003 EH1 was proposed by Dutch astronomer and NASA senior research scientist Peter Jenniskens as the parent body of the Quadrantids. The asteroid is likely to be an extinct comet and may even be related to the comet C/1490 Y1, which was observed by Chinese, Japanese and Korean astronomers some 500 years ago.
Along with the Geminids, the Quadrantids are the only major meteor showers not originating from a comet.
What to expect
The Quadrantids are active for a few days but are notorious for their short peak activity window, which lasts for only about 6 hours. In 2013, the shower is expected to be seen from January 1 to January 5 with the peak occurring at 12:50 UT on January 3. In recent years, the peak ZHR has varied between 80 and 150 with this year expected to be about 120.
As with all meteor showers the meteor trails often streak across the sky quite a distance from the actual radiant point, in many cases thirty, forty or more degrees away and therefore can effectively appear anywhere in the sky. It is therefore a good idea not to look directly at the radiant itself, but scan a large area of sky around it.
For this year's event, the waxing crescent Moon will set around midnight local time and will not interfere for morning observers. The Quadrantids are best seen from the northern hemisphere as the radiant is circumpolar and high in the sky from many northern locations. Unfortunately, the expected peak occurs at 12:50 UT on January 3 and the timing is poor for most land based observers. The exception is the far western areas of North America, on the North Pacific islands and the far east of Russia. Even so, if the skies are clear in your area it's always worth looking outside as meteor showers are unpredictable and you never know what you might get!
Quadrantids 2013 Data Table
|Meteor shower name||Quadrantids|
|Dates||1st January -> 5th January|
|Peak Date||3rd January (12:50 UT)|
|RA (J2000)||15hr 20m|
|ZHR||120 (can vary between 60 and 200)|
|Parent||2003 EH1 (asteroid)|