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The Quadrantid Meteor Shower (First Shower of the Year)

The Perseid meteor shower is without a doubt the most well-known meteor shower of the year. With the Perseid shower occurring in August, many people are able to lay out under the sky at night and enjoy watching the “shooting stars” blaze a trail across the sky. August 12th, the peak night of the shower, has always been a date that is marked on my calendar.

Photo Credit: hanz_222
A much lesser known shower is the Quadrantids. Peaking this year in the early morning hours of January 3rd, this shower produces more than 100 meteors per hour. With such an awesome display and an impressive per hour count, why aren’t the Quadrantids as well-known as the Perseids?

Weather is very definitely a factor. In much of the United States, the first part of January is rainy and snowy, basically being overcast. Put cold on top of that and not many people are willing to bundle up and go stare at the sky for a couple of hours, even if they’re lucky enough to get a clear sky. Oh, how I am hoping for a clear sky!

Another factor is the shortness of the shower. Unlike the Perseids, the Quadrantid shower lasts only a few hours. Prof. A.C.B. Lovell wrote in his classic book Meteor Astronomy, “useful counts of the Quadrantid rate were made in [only] 24 Januaries out of a possible 68 between 1860 and 1927. … The maximum rate appears to have occurred in 1932 (80 per hour) although the results are influenced by unfavorable weather.”

To view the Quadrantids shower, find the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). In the early part of January the Big Dipper is positioned so that the “bowl” is up, with the “handle” pointing down. Look below the handle to see the point of origin for the shower.

The meteor shower became known as the Quadrantids because of its emanation from a now obsolete constellation called Quadrans Muralis (the Mural Quadrant) located on some 19th-century star atlases near the point of meeting between Hercules, Draco and Bo├Âtes (which to me has always looked like a kite flying, fairly easy to pick out).

If weather (or cold) is a deterrent for you, you don’t have to miss the first meteor shower of the year. Tune into SpaceWeather Radio for a live audio stream from the Air Force Space Surveillance Radar. When a Quadrantid passes over the facility, you will hear a “ping” caused by the radar’s powerful transmitter echoing from the meteor’s ion trail. During the shower’s peak, the soundtrack is guaranteed to entertain.

Look to the sky an hour or two before sunrise to watch this phenomenal sight. January 3rd will be a date I mark on my calendar in the future. Happy skygazing!

Author Resource: Written by Starr Hendon


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