The Quadrantid Meteor Shower-One of the Best Bets for 2014

If there’s one thing we love, it’s a good meteor shower from an obscure and defunct constellation.

Never heard of the Quadrantids?  It may well be because this brief but intense annual meteor shower occurs in the early days of January. Chilly temps greet any would be meteor watchers with hardly the balmy climes of showers such as the August Perseids. Still, 2014 presents some good reasons to brave the cold in the first week of January, to just possibly catch the best meteor shower of the year.

The Quadrantids – sometimes simply referred to as “the Quads” in hipster meteor watcher inner circles – peak on January 3rd around 19:30 Universal Time (UT) or 2:30 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST). This places the northern Asia region in the best position to watch the show, though all northern hemisphere observers are encouraged to watch past 11 PM local worldwide. Remember: meteor showers are fickle beasties, with peak activity often arriving early or late. The Quadrantids tie the December Geminids for the highest predicted Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) for 2014 at 120.

A 2012 Quadrantid meteor in the bottom left side of the frame. (Photo by Author).
A 2012 Quadrantid meteor in the bottom left side of the frame. (Photo by Author).

Though the Quads are active from January 1st to the 10th, the enhanced peak only spans an average of six to ten hours. Though high northern latitudes have the best prospects, we’ve seen Quads all the way down in  the balmy January climes of Florida from around 30 degrees north.

Rates for the Quads are typically less than 10 per hour just a day prior to the sharp peak. The moonless mornings of Friday, January 3rd and Saturday, January 4th will be key times to watch. The radiant for the Quads stands highest just hours before local sunrise.

So, what’s up with the unwieldy name? Well, the Quadrantids take their name from a constellation that no longer exists on modern star charts. Along with the familiar patterns such as Leo and Orion, exist such archaic and obscure patterns as “The Printing Office” and the “Northern Fly” that, thankfully, didn’t make the cut. Quadrans Muralis, or the Mural Quadrant, established by Jérome de Lalande in the 1795 edition of Fortin’s Celestial Atlas was one such creation.  A mural quadrant was a large arc-shaped astronomical tool used for measuring angles in the sky. Apparently, Renaissance astronomers were mighty proud of their new inventions, and put immortalized them in the sky every chance they got as sort of the IPhone 5’s of their day.

The outline of the Mural Quadrant against the backdrop of modern day constellations. (Photo and graphic by author).
The outline of the Mural Quadrant against the backdrop of modern day constellations. (Photo and graphic by author).

The Mural Quadrant spanned the modern day constellations of Draco, Hercules and Boötes. The exact radiant of the Quads lies at Right Ascension 15 Hours 18’ and declination 49.5 degrees north, in the modern day constellation Boötes just 15 degrees east of the star Alkaid.

Previous year’s maximum rates as per the IMO have been as follows:

2013: ZHR=129

2012: ZHR=83

2011: ZHR=90

2010: ZHR=No data (Bright waning gibbous Moon)

2009: ZHR=138

The parent source of the Quadrantids went unknown, until Peter Jenniskens proposed that asteroid 2003 EH1 is a likely suspect. Possibly an extinct comet, 2003 EH1 reaches perihelion at 1.2 AUs from the Sun in 2014 on March 12th, another reason to keep an eye on the Quads in 2014. 2003 EH1 is on a 5.5 year orbit, and it’s been proposed that the asteroid may have a connection to comet C/1490 Y1 which was observed and recorded by 15th century astronomers in the Far East.

The Quadrantids were first identified as a distinct meteor shower in the 1830s by European observers. Owing to their abrupt nature and their climax during the coldest time of the year, the Quadrantids have only been sporadically studied. It’s interesting to note that researchers modeling the Quadrantid meteor stream have found that it undergoes periodic oscillations due to the perturbations from Jupiter. The shower displays a similar orbit to the Delta Aquarids over a millennia ago, and researchers M. N. Youssef and S. E. Hamid proposed in 1963 that the parent body for the shower may have been captured into its present orbit only four thousand years ago.

The orbital path of Amor NEO asteroid 196256 2003 EH1. (Credit: NASA/JPL Solar System Dynamics Small-Body Database Browser).
The orbital path of Amor NEO asteroid 196256 2003 EH1. (Credit: NASA/JPL Solar System Dynamics Small-Body Database Browser).

2003 EH1 is set to resume a series of close resonnance passes of Earth and Jupiter in 2044, at which time activity from the Quads may also increase. It’s been proposed that the shower may fade out entirely by the year 2400 AD.

And the Quadrantids may not be the only shower active in the coming weeks. There’s been some discussion that the posthumous comet formerly known as ISON might provide a brief meteor display on or around the second week of January.

Be sure to note any meteors and the direction that they’re coming from: the International Meteor Organization and the American Meteor Society always welcomes any observations. Simple counts of how many meteors observed and from what shower (Quads versus sporadics, etc) from a given location can go a long way towards understanding the nature of this January shower and how the stream is continually evolving.

Stay warm, tweet those meteors to #Meteorwatch, and send those brilliant fireball pics in to Universe Today!


16 Replies to “The Quadrantid Meteor Shower-One of the Best Bets for 2014”

  1. This meteor shower may be historic! Big things are getting ready to happen on earth and signs of them coming are written in the sun, moon and stars. There are two Super Moons this month; very rare. Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord?
    He is coming soon; maybe with hours because Kerry is getting ready to sign a framework for peace in the middle east. Consider Eternal things because the things of earth are getting ready to disappear!

  2. Some shower forecasts are giving only the US time of “early hours”. Thankfully David gives UT/GMT in addition. Well done UT (Universe Today)
    Roseland Obs

    1. Thanks! I try hard to keep my “brain on UT…” I usually try to only quote local times for discussions on localized events.

  3. This article is a bit over the top – I’ve read several articles over the few days and they all fail to take into account that the peak is very narrow – only a few hours. So in North America we will miss the maximum because it is occuring during daylight hours! So Friday morning will likely be the best time, but don’t expect a big show – a more realistic rate is more like 10 to 20 per hour. So enjoy it but don’t be fooled by headlines like the one above! (Good luck to those in eastern Asia who will get a nice view of this)

  4. What do insulting political cartoons have to do with meteor showers, Ivan?
    Can we have a Moderator correct this please?

    1. What does “the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord” have to do with meteor showers? And where’s your sense of humour?

  5. My purpose in discussing things we are seeing is to awaken People to the fact that Eternity is just ahead! If you choose to mock me; you only hurt yourself; it has no effect on me! Heard it all before! Just be warned that life as we have known it is very swiftly coming to an end; when the church suddenly vanishes; the floor on which the people left are standing will drop from beneath them! Then you will see the awful Truth when it is too late. We are entering 2014 which will begin the Tribulation period; the most dreadful 7 years in Human History; I cannot begin to describe the horrors just ahead. Go get your Bible, read the minor prophets of the old testament and of course, Revelation to see what I am talking about. While you are in the Bible, read the gospel of John and then the other gospels! Come to your senses and come running to Jesus Christ, repent and turn to Him with all of your heart RIGHT NOW, now is the day of Salvation; Now is the only time you have; tomorrow may be FOREVER too late!

  6. You know, the funny part about the attitude out there is that in Genesis I where the Earth is formless ,empty and darkness was on the surface; God is going to do that again while you guys are having coffee. The Rapture is hours away and when we are gone; God is going to annihilate this place with fire, brimstone. The comet trail earth is passing through January 12th is unprecedented, with poison gas, disease microbes and the like that will fall unseen but will fall onto the surface of this planet. I think I can safely say in 2014; you WILL NOT be having fun! Also, the Lord is sending (visions of this by some) 16 ft. ruthless demons to kill mockers and scoffers; do not know if they will eat them for lunch or not but put an end to them.

  7. I’ve deleted all of Marietta Alexander’s religious comments and replies because things were getting silly!

  8. The Quads are EXTREMELY narrow window of opportunity. With that being said, they have capacity to be spectacular. Only tonight and tomorrow morning are worth it, though; as this article points out, days either side of this will be extremely disappointing, as you’ll get as much as you do any other normal night.

    1. Actually, the best shower last year was the Geminids in December as far as I’m concerned; at one point from where I was, at 0300 roughly, I spotted some which came in together, which was amazing.

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