The first meteor shower of the year will hit its peak early Monday morning, Jan. 4. Named as the Quadrantid meteor shower, it is likely to be seen in Europe and North America about 3 a.m. EST, according to the Canadian Observer’s Handbook.
At that time, observers in the eastern regions of the United States and Canada will be perfectly positioned to watch the maximum activity from the meteor display. Depending on weather conditions, the natural show will be one of the most amusing astronomical events of the year.
Our moon will be two days past last quarter, a wide lunar crescent, rising around 2 a.m. This means that, although it would be better for it not to light up the night sky at all, the meteor shower will be far better than last year, when the moon was nearly full and the Quadrantids could not be truly appreciated.
The Quadrantid meteor shower is always the first to appear every New Year. Unlike the peaks of the Perseid shower or Geminid shower, which last for about a day or more and observers around the globe are able to admire them, the Quadrantids’ peak is very narrow, persisting only a couple of hours.
Only people who are on the part of the Earth that is in nighttime can enjoy the most Quadrantid’s meteors during the few hours of the shower’s peak, since during the day meteors must be exceptionally bright to be seen.
This meteor shower is named for the constellation from which it appeared to radiate: Quadrans Muralis, which no longer exists. The French astronomer Lalande discovered it in 1795 and it was located between the constellations of Bootes the Herdsman and Draco the Dragon.
In May 1922, the International Astronomical Union came out with a list of 88 modern constellations and Quadrans Muralis was not included. However, the Quadrantid meteor shower retained its original name.
Still radiating from Bootes’ brightest star, Arcturus, the Quadrantids is very far north on the sky’s dome, which explains why it will probably not make it above the horizon to observers in the Southern Hemisphere to enjoy the display.