General · 3rd January 2017
Thanks to Weather Network
The night of January 3-4 marks the peak of the first meteor shower of the year - the Quadrantids.
From December 28 to January 12, Earth passes through a stream of debris in space. This is typical of meteor showers, as the passage of comets through the inner solar system leaves behind a trail of dust, ice and rock, and these meteoroids produce bright streaks of light in our night sky as they are swept up by the atmosphere. The Quadrantids are a bit different than other meteor showers, however. Rather than just one parent body, the Quadrantids have two!
For many years, astronomers, meteor experts and enthusiasts alike all watched the January Quadrantids, as they were first recorded in the year 1825. It wasn't until much more recently that the source of the meteor shower was discovered, though. Comet 96P/Machholz 1 was discovered by amateur astronomer Donald Machholz in 1986, and its orbit closely matched that of the Quadrantid meteoroids, however 17 years later, astronomers discovered asteroid (196256) 2003 EH1, which also closely matched the Quadrantid meteoroid orbits. It has been suggested lately that all three of these - the comet, the asteroid and the meteor shower - are related. Given that (196256) 2003 EH1 has been labeled as an "extinct comet", it's quite possible that it and comet 96P/Machholz 1 were both once part of a larger cometary body that broke apart at some point in the past.
Regardless of their origin, the Quadrantids are always exceptional, due to being a very strong and bright shower - typically delivering around 120 meteors per hour during its peak, on the night of Jan 3-4. The shower's peak is a very sharp one, however, lasting only an hour or two, and the best time to watch is likely in the hours just before sunrise, local time.
Although the Quadrantid radiant is in the vicinity of the constellation Bootes, if you want to find it, look in the northeast sky, after midnight, just under the Big Dipper.
You don't need to find the radiant to enjoy the show, however. The best way to watch this meteor shower, as with others, is to find a dark place, away from city lights, plunk down a lawn chair, sit and tilt your head back, so that you can take in the entire night sky, all at once. This is because the meteoroids in the debris stream can intercept the atmosphere at any point in the sky, so only keeping your eyes on the northeast will mean missing plenty of these meteors.
Unlike the Geminids, which had to compete with the light of the December 14 Full Moon, the Quadrantids rise only after the January 3 waxing crescent Moon has set for the night. So, there should be great viewing, if the weather gives us clear skies.