What is the Quadrantid meteor shower? Here's how you can view the celestial light show

What is the Quadrantid meteor shower? Here's how you can view the celestial light show
(Getty Images)

The Quadrantids, which peak during early-January each year, are considered to be one of the best annual meteor showers. Most meteor showers have a two-day peak, which makes catching sight of these other meteors much more possible. The Quadrantids peak, on the other hand, is much shorter, only a few hours. 

When are they active?

They are active from December 28 to January 12, and they usually peak in the first week of January. During its peak, 60 to as many as 200 Quadrantid meteors can be seen per hour under perfect conditions. Quadrantids are also known for their bright fireball meteors. Fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. This is because fireballs originate from larger particles of material. 

“According to the International Meteor Organization’s 2021 meteor shower calendar, the Quadrantids are predicted to peak near 14:30 Universal Time on January 3, 2021. This timing is favorable for the Alaska and mid-eastern Pacific longitudes of the northern hemisphere. Those viewing from the southern hemisphere will not see much activity at all as the radiant does not rise very high in their sky before dawn intervenes. Regardless of where you live, the morning of January 3, 2021, will offer the best chance of seeing any Quadrantid activity,” explains the American Meteor Society. 


They are active from December 28 to January 12 (Getty Images)

How to watch them?

The Quadrantids are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere during the night and predawn hours. You do not need any special equipment or a lot of skills to view a meteor shower. All you need is a clear sky. Find a secluded viewing spot, away from the city lights. Once at the venue, lie flat on your back with your feet facing northeast and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. Your eyes may take 20 to 30 minutes to get used to the dark.


Where do they originate?

Unlike most meteor showers which originate from comets, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid: asteroid 2003 EH1. Asteroid 2003 EH1 takes 5.52 years to orbit the sun once. According to scientists, 2003 EH may be a “dead comet” or a new kind of object being discussed by astronomers called a “rock comet”.

2003 EH may be a “dead comet” or a new kind of object being discussed by astronomers called a "rock comet" (Getty Images)


2003 EH1 was discovered on March 6, 2003, by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search (LONEOS). 2003 EH1 is a small asteroid: its diameter measures only about two miles (three kilometers) across. It was astronomer and research scientist Peter Jenniskens who realized that 2003 EH1 is the source for the Quadrantid meteors.

When was it first seen?

The American Meteor Society suggests that these meteors were first seen in 1825 and appeared to radiate from the obsolete constellation of Quadrans Muralis (Mural Quadrant). “Today, this area of the sky lies within the boundaries of the constellation of Boötes the herdsman,” it adds. 


If the meteor shower’s name sounds odd, it is probably because it does not sound like it is related to a constellation, like other meteor showers. That is because the Quadrantids’ namesake constellation no longer exists, at least, not as a recognized constellation. Quadrans Muralis, which is located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco, is no longer included in the International Astronomical Union or IAU’s list of modern constellations because it is considered obsolete.


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