Set your alarms early on the morning of January 4th to view the annual Quadrantid Meteor Shower. The first meteor shower of the new year is expect to be a spectacular show, and will be visible to observers in North America and Europe.
In the United States and Canada, those living in eastern locations can expect maximum activity at about 3 a.m. EST, when the radiant of the shower will be well up in the dark, northeastern sky.
These meteors appear to radiate from a spot in the sky midway between the last star in the handle of the Big Dipper and the head of Draco, the Dragon, but they officially radiate from within the boundaries of the constellation Boötes, The Herdsman.
We know that meteor showers are usually named for the constellation from which they appear to radiate, so why isn’t this show named The Boötids?
The reason is because these showers were named for a constellation that no longer exists — Quadrans Muralis, the “Mural or Wall Quadrant.” It is a long-obsolete star pattern, invented in 1795 by J.J. Lalande to commemorate the instrument used to observe the stars in his catalogue. Adolphe Quetelet, of Brussels Observatory, discovered the shower in the 1830s and shortly afterward it was recognized by several astronomers in Europe and America, as well. Thus, the showers were named “Quadrantids,” the original name that continues to this day.
At peak, expect to see anywhere from 60 to 120 meteors per hour. These are moderately swift meteors, many leaving trains, Just be sure you have a dark sky, and give your eyes at least 15 to 20 minutes to adjust to the dark. And bundle up!
With input from Astronomer Joe Rao.