Quadrantids Coming

Northern Hemisphere observers are in for a treat if they stay up real late on January 3rd (or wake up real early on the 4th). That’s your opportunity to view the Quadrantids meteor shower will occur. Unlike other meteor showers that might be visible over the course of a few nights, the Quadrantids have only a very narrow window of time to be seen; however, the shower is a very active one that you’ll want to make an effort to catch.

Quadrantid

(NASA/MSFC/MEO/B. Cooke)

So, where to look? Like other meteor showers, the Quandrantids take their name from the constellation they appear to radiate out of (Leonids via Leo, Geminids via Gemini, etc.). What’s that? You aren’t familiar with a “Quadrant” constellation? That’s because this meteor shower was named after a constellation that is no longer recognized as such (Quadrans Muralis). Constellation or not, the Quadrantids exist and can be found radiating out of the constellation  Boötes. To find  Boötes, look left of the handle of the Big Dipper and before  the head of Draco. You’ll easily be able to identify Boötes by the very bright star, Arcturus.

Diagram of Boötes

(Source: IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg) via Wikipedia)

But remember one of the most important tips for viewing meteor showers: Looking at the radiant point isn’t the best place to stare. In fact, you’ll miss quite a few and probably catch a few more only through your peripheral vision. While if you imagined charting every meteor and extending their lines across the sky, the majority will intersect at the radiant point; however, they often don’t “light up” until they’re way away from the radiant point.  You might look towards, say Polaris, which is a great star to look at if you’re going to spend a few hours looking up — there’s just something spending a night watching everything rotate around the North Star.

There will be a waxing gibbous Moon to contend with, but for most in the United States it will set near 3am. Up as far North as I am, it won’t be setting until closer to 5am. That said, don’t let the Moon intimidate you; the Quadrantids are a very active shower — up to between 100 – 200 per hour! — and the Moon, if it is still up when you’re observing, should be outside of your field of view while spotting meteors.

 

Clear skies!


Quadrantids Tonight!

The Quandrantids meteor shower peaks tonight. A nearly New Moon should make for dark skies, depending on cloud coverage.

Normally, you can tell which constellation the shower will appear to radiate from by the name of the shower. e.g. Leonids = Leo, Orionids = Orion, Geminids = Gemeni, etc.

The Quadrantids radiate from Quadrans Muralis, which is no longer considered a constellation. So, where should you look? The constellation Bootes (Arcturus is a bright star in this constellation) would be a good point to consider the radiant. But don’t get too hung up on looking at the radiant point, or you’ll miss many of them. If you were to take pictures of each meteor tonight, and extend the lines they trace across the sky, the radiant is the place where most of those lines would intersect. Polaris (the North Star) would be a good spot to look at; if the skies are clear, that’s where my camera will be pointing.

For more specifics, check out this website.

Happy Observing!

Geminids Meteor Shower – Live Webcam

Cloudy skies, but still want to see the Geminids?

NASA has created a live webcam feed from their all-sky meteor camera at the Marshall Space Flight Center. A radio-static “soundtrack” is being played along with the video.

When a meteor burns up in the atmosphere, it also produces a trail of ionized particles that reflect radio waves. If the meteor is located in the right spot in Huntsville’s sky, the signal from the station transmitter is reflected to the radio receiver, and you will hear a “ping” above the static noise. – NASA

If you have clear skies, make it a late night and watch what should be a brilliant meteor shower. If the handful of fireballs I’ve seen over the past few nights are any indication, we should have a nice show as the Geminids peak this evening and into tomorrow morning. The best views will certainly be after the Moon sets, especially between 1am and 3am local time; however, if you cannot stay up that late look towards the East before you go to bed and you should see a handful.