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The first annual meteor shower of the year is the Quadrantids and it can be a good one with up to 60 meteors per hour visible at peak time. This rate is comparable to the much observed Perseids and Geminids, but unlike these showers the Quadrantids are elusive with a narrow peak activity window lasting just a few hours. Unfortunately, this year's event is not favourable. The Moon, just past full, will significantly interfere and therefore wash out all but the brightest meteors.

A Quadrantid Meteor (credit:- NASA)

Radiant and History

Meteor showers are usually named after the constellation that contains the radiant, but you will have difficulty figuring out the relevant constellation for the Quadrantids. The reason is it no longer exists. Today, the Quadrantids radiant is located in Boötes, not far from the tail of Ursa Major. When the shower was discovered in the 1830s by Adolphe Quetelet of the Brussels Observatory 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 represented the mural quadrant, a wall mounted astronomical instrument used for measuring star positions. Although no longer recognised by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Quadrans Muralis is one of the better known obsolete constellations due to its association with the meteor shower.

Parent asteroid

Since the peak of the Quadrantids is exceedingly sharp, the stream of particles producing 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. 2003 EH1 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 in 2018

The Quadrantids are active for a few days but are notorious for their short peak activity window of only about 6 hours. In 2018, the shower is expected to be seen from January 1st to January 6th with peak activity at about 22:00 UT on January 3rd. However as previously mentioned, prospects are not good as the Moon just past full will significantly interfere. The best time to look is a few hours before sunrise on the mornings of January 3rd and January 4th.

Most Quadrantid meteors are faint and slow moving with some appearing yellow or bluish in colour. Occasionally, a few bright meteors can be seen. As with all showers, the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. It's therefore a good idea not to look directly at the radiant itself, but scan a large area of sky surrounding it.

The view to the East from mid northern temperate latitudes early morning on January 4, 2018 (credit: - stellarium/freestarcharts)

Quadrantids Radiant and Star Chart (credit - freestarcharts)

Quadrantids Radiant and Star Chart - pdf format (credit - freestarcharts)

Quadrantids 2018 Data Table

Meteor shower NameQuadrantids
Meteor shower AbbreviationQUA
Radiant constellationBoötes
ActivityDecember 28th -> January 12th
Peak DateJanuary 3rd
RA (J2000)15hr 20m
DEC (J2000)+49d
Speed (km/s)41
Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR)60
Parent body196256 (2003 EH1)
NotesPeak 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)

Name196256 (2003 EH1)
TypeAsteroid (probably distinct comet)
ClassificationAmor (NEO)
DiscovererLONEOS (Lowell Obs, Anderson Mesa Station, Arizona, USA)
Discovery dateMarch 6, 2003
Aphelion (AU)5.05608
Perihelion (AU)1.18943
Semi-major axis (AU) 3.12276
Orbital period (years)5.51855
Inclination (degrees) 70.8760
Longitude of ascending node (degrees)282.961
Last perihelionMarch 12, 2014
Next perihelion September 17, 2019