Your best chance to see any shooting stars or fireballs will be over for a while on Wednesday, so plan ahead.
There is a relative dearth of meteor showers in the first few months of the year, so it’s worth trying to catch the Quadrantids during the very brief peak just after the New Year.
While December is full of opportunities to catch the abundant Gemini and Ursid meteors, the Quadrantid meteor shower is the only major shower in the first quarter of the year, peaking very briefly this week on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
Whom Twins and ursids, the Quadrantids are often among the strongest showers of the year, but these meteors don’t generate as much hype as the northern summer Perseids in August, which hit during summer vacation for many skywatchers. Also, the window of opportunity to see the Quadrantids is very narrow, with the peak of intense activity lasting only six hours this year. American Meteorological Society.
Other showers may have peaks that last a day or two, with less, but still a decent amount of activity extending over the days before and after the actual peak.
The Stellar 2021 Perseid meteor shower shines in footage from around the world
If you’re hoping to catch the Quadrantids this year, there are two factors to consider: when the shower will peak at your location, and how high the quadrant of the night sky where the Quadrantid meteors originate will be at that time.
There is no guarantee of predicting the exact moment of peak activity for a meteor shower, but a target range for the best viewing times is between 3:40 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. UTC in January. 4 (Tuesday 7:40 p.m. to 10:40 p.m. PT). However, the area of the sky where the Quadrantids radiate outward is in the constellation Bootes the shepherd, and this ray is highest in the sky from about 2 am to 6 am local time.
Find where these two windows overlap in the Northern Hemisphere (unfortunately, the radiation will be mostly below the horizon south of the equator) and you have the best spots on the planet to observe the Quadrantids. It appears to be any region in or near the North Atlantic. Again, peak forecasts aren’t exact, so it’s worth trying to see what you can see from almost anywhere in Europe or North America with clear skies on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
Head outside with plenty of refreshments and warm clothes and give yourself at least an hour for the whole viewing experience. You need about 15 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust, and plenty of time to spot shooting stars, which inevitably appear intermittently after long breaks in activity.
Lie on your back with a wide view of the clear sky and orient yourself to the northeast to face the right brightness. Under ideal conditions, you can expect to see about 25 quadrantids per hour, including lots of shooting stars and a few fireballs if you’re lucky. You might get lucky with the Quadrantids bursting, producing up to 120 meteors per hour, according to some forecasts.
One potential problem is that the moon will be about 92% full on Wednesday morning, so you’ll need to adjust your viewing plan to put the bright moon at your back.
What you see when a Quadrantid meteor streaks across the sky is a speck or pebble-sized piece of sky. Asteroid 2003 EH1, Some astronomers believe it may be a new type of object, sometimes called an extinct comet or a “rocky comet.” Over the centuries, EH1 has left a trail of debris in its path, and our planet passes through that debris stream every January.
If the weather cooperates where you are, consider making the effort to get out and look early Wednesday, as the next big meteor shower isn’t until April.
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