The first major meteor shower of the year, the illusive Quadrantids, peaks on January 3, 2014. At maximum, from an ideal location around 120 meteors per hour can be seen. However, the shower has a narrow peak activity window lasting only a few hours and as a result it's not as well observed as some of the other great annual meteor showers, such as the Perseids and the Geminids. Therefore, spotting Quadrantids meteors can be challenging and it makes a fine start to the new astronomical year if you can glimpse even just a few of them!
With New Moon occurring on January 1st it won't interfere, creating ideal viewing conditions for this year's Quadrantids.
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 2014, the shower is expected to be seen from January 1st to January 5th with the peak occurring at 19:30 UT on January 3rd. The good news is that the 3-day-old crescent Moon will not interfere this year. The eastern part of Asia is best placed for this year's shower, although western Asia, the Middle East and Europe (particular eastern) should also have a reasonable chance of catching a few meteors.
The radiant rises as the evening progresses and the best time to look is after midnight towards the east - northeastern part of the sky. Most Quadrantid meteors are faint and medium to slow moving with some appearing yellow or bluish in colour. Occasionally a few bright meteors can be seen.
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.
If you have clear skies then the illusive Quadrantids are certainly worth keeping a watch out for!
Quadrantids 2014 Data Table
|Meteor shower Name||Quadrantids|
|Meteor shower Abbreviation||QUA|
|Activity||December 28th -> January 12th|
|Peak Date||January 3rd|
|RA (J2000)||15hr 20m|
|ZHR||120 (can vary between 60 and 200)|
|Parent body||196256 (2003 EH1)|
|Notes||Peak intensity window is brief, sometimes lasting only a few hours. Together with the Geminids they are the only major meteor showers not originating from a comet.|
Asteroid 196256 (2003 EH1) Data Table (at epoch April 18th, 2013)
|Name||196256 (2003 EH1)|
|Type||Asteroid (probably distinct comet)|
|Discoverer||LONEOS (Lowell Obs, Anderson Mesa Station, Arizona, USA)|
|Discovery date||March 6, 2003|
|Semi-major axis (AU)||3.12276|
|Orbital period (years)||5.51855|
|Longitude of ascending node (degrees)||282.961|
|Last perihelion||September 4, 2008|
|Next perihelion||March 12, 2014|