Quadrantid meteor shower peaks Wednesday morning

January 3rd, 2012 at 12:05 am by under Weather

The annual Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to produce its greatest number of meteors in the wee hours before dawn Wednesday. The Quadrantid meteor shower is capable of matching the meteor rates of the better known August Perseid and December Geminid showers. It has been known to produce up to 100 (or more) meteors per hour. This shower favors the far northern latitudes – for example, northern Europe, northern Asia, the northern U.S. and Canada.

So why isn’t the Quadrantid shower as celebrated as the Perseid and Geminid showers? It’s because the Quadrantid shower has a narrow peak that lasts for only an hour or two. If you miss the peak – which is easy to do – this otherwise tepid shower is sure to disappoint.

If you’re thinking of watching the Quadrantids, the peak is expected around 1:30 a.m.,  though meteor shower peaks are rarely certain, and sometimes a gamble on a shower will reward you with a good show. Just be aware you might not see a whole lot of meteors! The best time to watch is after moonset and before dawn. At mid-northern latitudes, the waxing gibbous moon will set roughly four hours before sunrise tomorrow.

Moonset in Austin Wednesday morning is 3:20 a.m., but local skywatchers would be advised to begin their meteor watch earlier, in order to not miss the potential peak.

Moonset and sunrise times for your sky

January 4, 2012 in the wee hours before dawn
When we say January 4, we mean in the wee hours before dawn, not that night. Although the waxing gibbous moon lights up most of the night and doesn’t set until roughly 3 a.m. local time, this is about the best time of night to watch for these meteors. Although the Quadrantids can produce over 100 meteors per hour, the sharp peak only lasts for a few hours, and doesn’t always come at an opportune time. In other words, you have to be in the right spot on Earth to view this meteor shower in all its splendor. If this year’s forecast proves correct, eastern North America, the North Atlantic Ocean and possibly western Europe will be in a fine position to watch this shower. However, meteor showers are notorious for defying predictions.

This shower is worth a try at northerly latitudes all around the globe. Face the general direction of north-northeast, but take in as wide an expanse of sky as possible. Watch from about 2 a.m. until dawn.The Quadrantid shower is named after the defunct 19th century constellation Quadrans Muralis. If you trace the paths of the Quandrantids backward, they appear to radiate from a point where this constellation once reigned in the sky. This point is called the meteor shower radiant. If you wish, you can locate the Quadrantid radiant in reference to the Big Dipper and the bright star Arcturus.

Big and Little Dippers: Noticeable in northern sky

Arcturus: follow the arc

But you don’t have to find the radiant to enjoy the Quadrantids. You need a dark, open sky, and you need to look in a general north-northeast direction for an hour or so before dawn. That’s the Quadrantid meteor shower tonight for the world’s northerly latitudes.

Source: EarthSky.org

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