Viewing the Quadrantid Meteor Shower in 2021

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The Quadrantids can be one of the strongest displays of the year, yet they are difficult to observe. The main factor is that the display of strong activity only has a duration of about 6 hours. The reason the peak is so short is due to the shower’s thin stream of particles and the fact that the Earth crosses the stream at a perpendicular angle. Unlike most meteor showers which originate from comets, the Quadrantids have been found to originate from an asteroid. Asteroid 2003 EH1 takes 5.52 years to orbit the sun. It is possible that 2003 EH1 is a “dead comet” or a new kind of object being discussed by astronomers sometimes called a “rock comet.”

These meteors were first noted 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. During early January nights as seen from the northern hemisphere, this area of the sky lies very low in the northwest in the evening sky. Very little activity is normally seen at this time. As the night progresses this area of the sky swings some 40 degrees beneath the northern celestial pole. From areas south of 40 degrees north latitude, it actually passes below the horizon. It then begins a slow rise into the northeastern sky where it obtains a useful altitude around 02:00 local standard time (depending on your latitude). It is between this time and dawn that you will have your best chance to view these meteors. If the peak occurs during this time you will be in for a treat as rates could exceed 100 per hour as seen from rural locations under a moonless sky. Unfortunately a bright waning gibbous moon will be present this year at this time. This will severely reduce the number of meteors that can be seen. Yet, if your sky is clear and transparent, you still have the opportunity to view quite a few meteors .

According to the International Meteor Organization’s 2021 Meteor Shower Calendar (page 3) 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 3rd 2021, will offer the best chance of seeing any Quadrantid activity.

The best strategy to see the most activity is to face the northeast quadrant of the sky and center your view about half-way up in the sky. By facing this direction you be able to see meteors shoot out of the radiant in all directions. This will make it easy to differentiate between the Quadrantids and random meteors from other sources. To provide a scientific useful observing session one needs to carefully note the starting and ending time of your session and the time each meteor appears. The type of meteor needs to be recorded as well as its magnitude. Other parameters that can be recorded are colors, velocity (degrees per second or verbal description) and whether the meteor left a persistent train. Fireballs should be noted and a separate online form filled out after the session.

Serious observers should watch for at least an hour as numerous peaks and valleys of activity will occur. If you only few for a short time it may coincide with a lull of activity. Watching for at least an hour guarantees you will get to see the best this display has to offer. The serious observer is also encouraged to fill out a visual observing form on the website of the International Meteor Organization located at: https://www.imo.net/members/imo_registration/register/ . You must register to use the form but this is free.

This illustration above depicts the Quadrantid radiant as seen during the morning hours looking low toward the northeast. The brilliant star Arcturus is a good guide to this area of the sky. All Quadrantid meteors will trace back to the radiant area located in northern Bootes. There are several other minor showers active during this time plus random meteors that will appear in different paths than the Quadrantids with different velocities.

In 2022, the Quadrantids are predicted to peak with no moon present near 21:00 UT on January 3rd. This timing favors most of Asia, while the remainder of the world experiences daylight or early evening. We look forward to hearing your results of this year’s display!

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17 comments

  • jbsilver 4 months ago

    What is your book called and where can I find it. Do can I use it for information to star glaze and watch meteor showers in 2021

    Reply to jbsilver
    • Robert Lunsford 4 months ago

      The book is called “Meteors and How to Observe Them”. It’s available at most book outlets or can be ordered from them. It’s intended as a guide to viewing meteor activity but you can also star gaze while waiting for each meteor to appear.

      Reply to Robert
  • Hope King 4 months ago

    I live in north carolina please tell the date and time to see them. I am so confused

    Reply to Hope
    • Robert Lunsford 4 months ago

      The Quadrantids are best seen on the night of January 2-3, 2021. This date is good for all locations. They are best seen during the last two hours before dawn when the source of the meteors lies highest in the northeastern sky. Unfortunately a bright moon will also be present in the sky at that time of night and will obscure all but the brighter meteors.

      Reply to Robert
  • TD 4 months ago

    Hi Question. If you live in Alabama what time would be appropriate to see them? I live in a area that’s pretty visible

    Reply to TD
    • Robert Lunsford 4 months ago

      They are best seen during the last two hours before dawn when the source of the meteors lies highest in the northeastern sky. Unfortunately a bright moon will also be present in the sky at that time of night and will obscure all but the brighter meteors.

      Reply to Robert
  • Aaron Wexler 4 months ago

    Where is the best place and best time to view? I’m in Los Angeles. Thanks!

    Reply to Aaron
    • Robert Lunsford 4 months ago

      Any place that the sky is clear. Urban or rural locations won’t matter as much with this shower as a bright moon will obscure many of the fainter meteors.

      Good Luck!

      Reply to Robert
  • DIEGO D 4 months ago

    will I see this shower in Colombia? what time the shower take place?

    Tank you!

    Reply to DIEGO
    • Robert Lunsford 4 months ago

      You could see a few of these meteors from Columbia, shooting upward from the northeastern horizon during the last two hours prior to dawn.

      Reply to Robert
  • RICHARD 4 months ago

    I just seen 3 very quick bright flashes traveling in the sky up here in the poconos, pennsylvania. very clear night it was amazing to see.

    Reply to RICHARD
  • RICHIE DIMINO 4 months ago

    just seen 3 objects streaking across the sky up here in the poconos. very bright and super quick. awesome to watch. happened around 3:30 to 3:38 am.

    Reply to RICHIE
  • Rose 4 months ago

    Already saw 3 shooting stars in Temple City, CA. Find a dark pocket away from city lights and look up. Clouds coming in and out can hinder but still saw a streak across sky!

    Reply to Rose
  • Atman Bharadwaj 4 months ago

    its only visible between dusk of jan 2 And dawn of 3 jan

    Reply to Atman
  • Bobby Neuenfeldt 4 months ago

    We saw over a dozen meteors around 4:30 am over the span of about 45 minutes. The waning gibbous moon was unfortunately bright but we still caught the short brilliant streaks in our central Texas sky. The frisson of excitement that a couple of 60 year olds experience while observing these quick shooting stars is exhilarating.

    Reply to Bobby
  • Annette Compton 4 months ago

    We watched this Tues Jan 5th over the sky of Hardinsburg, KY.

    Got a great set of pics.

    Reply to Annette

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