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!

 

NASA Provides Live All-Sky Video Feed for Quadrantid Meteor Shower

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If you are hoping to see some meteors from the Quadrantid meteor shower but are being foiled by cloudy weather or if it’s just too cold outside to get up off your couch, NASA has come to the rescue. The Marshall Space Flight Center has set up a live all-sky camera feed of the skies over Huntsville, Alabama in the US. You can find the Ustream page with the feed here. Reports from Marshall say the weather looks very clear for tonight (Jan. 3) in Huntsville. Tonight is really your best shot to see this meteor shower this year.

If you plan to be a little more actively involved in watching this shower, join in on Meteorwatch, where you can share the experience via Twitter.


Of course, you will have to wait until it is dark in Huntsville to watch the video feed; during the daytime, the feed will just show a dark gray box. The camera is light-activated and will turn on at dusk each evening.

This shower will peak in the early morning hours of Jan. 4. The Quadrantids have a maximum rate of about 100 per hour, varying between 60-200. The waxing gibbous Moon will set around 3 a.m. local time, leaving about two hours of excellent meteor observing before dawn.

Here’s a map of who should be able to see the Quadrantid meteors:

A map of worldwide Quadrantid visibility. Credit: NASA

Red areas will see no Quads, yellow just a few, and green should see a decent shower if they are in dark sky conditions.

Marshall Space Flight Center suggests that to view tonight’s Quadrantids, you should have an area with dark skies well away from city or street lights. Dress warmly and go out just after Moonset around 3 a.m. local time. Lie flat on your back on a blanket, lawn chair, or sleeping bag and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient — the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a meteor.

For more info see the our preview article on the Quadrantid meteor shower, or Marshall Space Flight Center’s Quadrantid info page.

The 2012 Quadrantid Meteor Shower

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The first of the 2012 meteor showers – The Quadrantids – peaks on the night of the 3rd and 4th of January.

The Quadrantid meteor shower is one of the major annual meteor showers and often performs well under ideal observing conditions.

The Quadrantids can be quite impressive with a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of up to 120 meteors per hour at their peak (under perfect conditions) and can sometimes produce rates of 60 to 200 meteors per hour. The peak is quite narrow lasting only a few hours, with activity either side of the peak sometimes being weak, but well worth observing.

Due to a waxing gibbous Moon, the best time to look is after midnight and through the early hours, plenty of time for us to see the peak build up to 07:20 UT on the 4th, but the Quadrantids are active from December 28th through January 12th so we should have plenty of chances to spot some shooting stars.

The radiant of the Quadrantids (where the meteors radiate from) is in the constellation of Boötes, however many people are misled in thinking they need to look at the radiant to see the meteors – this is not true. Meteors will come from the radiant, but will appear anywhere in the whole sky at random. You can trace the meteors (shooting stars) path back to the radiant to confirm if it is a meteor from the meteor shower.

You don’t need a telescope or binoculars to watch meteor showers, just your eyes. To enjoy a meteor shower and spot as many meteors as possible, you need to try and place yourself away from bright lights and make yourself comfortable. Meteor showers are best observed if you use a reclining garden chair or something similar so you can keep your gaze on the sky as long as possible. This will give you the best results.

For more information on how to observe and enjoy the Quadrantid meteor shower, visit meteorwatch.org

Quadrantid Meteor Credit: nasa.gov

Meteor Shower Throws Over 100 Meteors per Hour

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With over 100 meteors per hour, the Quadrantid Meteor Shower is one of the latest mergers between Google and NASA, a major asset to space research due to their successful combination of ideas and plans. This peak shower began around 0200 UTC on Friday morning, January 4th, with the jet owned by the founders of Mountain View-based Google flying amongst big science players, such as the SETI research team.

To see this spectacular sight and to partake in a scientific mission, Google carried a team of NASA scientists and their high-technology instruments on board the Google owned Gulfstream V jet, which left the Mineta San Jose International Airport on Thursday late afternoon about 4:30 p.m. Plans were made for a ten-hour flight over the Arctic, returning to home base when the meteor shower mission was accomplished with the resulting data.

The GOOG Google.com Stock Message Board is full of the things that Google has been doing to improve the world—a real biggie was to develop a cheaper solar, wind power for Earth—excellent idea from a company whose corporate motto is to “do not be evil.â€? That plan involved the creation of a research group to develop energy sources that was a cheaper renewable alternative which focuses on solar, wind and any other forms of power through the Renewable Energy “Cheaper Than Coalâ€? project. And of course, lowering Google’s power bill was top of the list before anyone else as a huge incentive.

Last September, as most are aware of, NASA and Google had launched a $2.6 million dollar agreement to let the Google co-founders house their aircraft at Moffett Field while NASA was to be allowed to use it for their science work, such as that of the Quadrantid Meteor Shower. Other prospective plans for Google are to hand out $30 million dollars to any company that successfully comes up with a plan to bring people to the moon. Another plan is to fund a space race through Google’s Lunar X Prize competition.

Original Source: NASA News Release