The Quadrantids or January Bootes are active from January 1st through the 10th each year. They reach maximum activity on either the 3rd or 4th, depending on the year. In 2014, the maximum activity is predicted to occur near 19:30 Universal Time on January 3th. This time corresponds to the late morning or early afternoon hours on January 3rd for North American observers. While the timing is bad for North American observers, the lunar phase is a waxing crescent so moonlight will not interfere as the phase is very thin.
Observers in North America are urged to view on both the mornings of January 3rd and 4th. Rates on the morning of the 3rd will be the most productive as it lies closer to the predicted peak. The last few hours before dawn are best as the radiant lies highest above the horizon in a dark sky. Those viewing from high northern latitudes can try to see Quadrantid activity on the evening of the 3rd. Do not expect to see many meteors then as the low radiant altitude will prevent much activity from being seen.
North American observers can expect to see 20-40 Quadrantids per hour just before dawn on the morning of the 3rd. The radiant will be located at 15:20 +49, which lies in northern Bootes. In general, the higher your latitude the better the observing situation. Unfortunately in higher latitudes the weather is usually cloudy this time of year. If not cloudy the bitterly cold temperatures are a constant danger to the exposed observer. From south of the equator the radiant only clears the northern horizon during the last few hours before dawn. Even when above the horizon the low radiant altitude prevents a majority of the Quadrantid meteors from being seen.
The best strategy is to face toward the north or eastern portion of the sky. This way you can have the Quadrantid radiant within your field of view and easily determine shower association for Quadrantids and non-Quadrantids. Do not face directed at the radiant as the meteors seen in the region of the sky are short and easily missed. Meteors seen further from the radiant are longer and more noticeable. It is advised to face as low as possible without looking at the ground. Therefore, have the bottom of your field of view just above the horizon. You may have thought that facing straight up is best but the sky directly above you presents a thin slice of the atmosphere and you see only meteors that are relatively close to you. Facing more toward the horizon allows you to see a larger portion of the atmosphere and meteors that occur much further away. If this direction is blocked by trees of hills then shift to the northwest or southeast. By viewing in these directions, it will be a bit more difficult to associate the meteors with their radiant. With a great majority of the activity on these mornings belonging to the Quadrantid shower, it should be fairly obvious which meteors are Quadrantids and which are not. In no way are all meteors seen these nights Quadrantids. There are several other minor showers active at this time plus the sporadic background can produce around ten random meteors per hour. If you keep a steady field of view the Quadrantid meteors will travel in similar directions with the same velocity. Meteors from other sources will travel in different directions and have different velocities. With an entry velocity of 42km per second, the Quadrantids seen 45 degrees from the radiant and 45 degrees above the horizon will be of medium velocity, usually lasting around one-half second. Those appearing closer to the radiant or closer to the horizon will appear to travel slower. Those appearing further from the radiant or further above the horizon will appear to travel faster.
The Quadrantids are known to produce fireballs, meteors that are of magnitude -5 or brighter. Of the approximate 500 Quadrantids I have seen, the brightest was a magnitude -10, which left a persistent train for several minutes. While not known for producing a high percentage of trains, the brightest Quadrantids usually leave a remnant train lasting one-half to one second after the meteor itself has disappeared.
This will be your last chance to get a good look at the Quadrantids until January 2016. In 2015, the peak should occur near 0130 UT, which is better for North America than 2014. Unfortunately the moon will be near its full phase and all but the brightest meteors will be obscured by the bright lunar glare. So give the Quadrantids a look this upcoming January and start your new year off which some of nature’s celestial fireworks.