We love it when obscure defunct constellations work their way into modern usage. This week brings with it the first meteor shower of 2013 by way of the Quadrantids. And let’s get the most frequent question out of the way right now, one that we always get around the beginning of each year; where the heck did the name come from? Ah, for that little bit of trivia, we refer you to our handy post on obsolete constellations of yore. The Quadrantids derive their name from an obsolete constellation known as the Mural Quadrant or Quadrans Muralis.
Of course, a mural quadrant was a large protractor-like device used to measure astronomical angles, unfortunately, not a fixture seen in many houses or observatories today. Likewise, this constellation fell into disuse in modern times, and today, the radiant of the Quadrantid meteors falls just inside the border of the constellation Boötes near a right ascension 15 hours and 28’ minutes and a declination of +50°, the northern most radiant of any large major shower.
Looking northeast from mid-northern latitudes around 3AM local on January 3rd.
(Created by the Author in Starry Night).
Unfortunately, the circumstances for the 2013 Quadrantids aren’t particularly favorable, with a 63% illuminated waning gibbous Moon rising just before local midnite on the night of January 2nd/3rd. The predicted peak of activity is on January 3rd at 13:00 UTC/ 08:00 EST, favoring the central Pacific region in the early morning hours of the 3rd. Keep in mind that the Quadrantids are notorious for a swift peak in activity which can be less than 10 hours in duration. This shower usually produces a zenithal hourly rate of 60-200, with around 100 per hour being a good bet, though moonlight will dampen this somewhat. The Quadrantids also have a good r value of 2.1 going for them, meaning that a larger proportion of bright meteors can be expected on an average year. In previous years, the Quadrantids produced a twin ZHR=80 peak over a 24 hour span in 2012, a short ZHR=90 peak in 2011, and spectacular ZHR=150 peak in 2009. It’s typical of observers based in one latitude to refer to the Quadrantids as “amazing!” while other locales miss out entirely, a testament to its short lived peak.
The source of the Quadrantid meteors has been proposed to be minor planet 2003 EH1, which has also been linked to the Great Comet of 1490. The Quadrantids were first noted by astronomer Antonio Brucalassi in 1825, and have been studied sporadically (bad pun intended) ever since.
You can maximize your chances of catching a “Quad” by finding as dark a site as possible and putting something such as a house, tree or hill between yourself and the bright Moon. Timing is also important; the radiant clears the northeastern horizon around 2 AM local, and the early morning hours of the 3rd are your best bet. If clear skies permit, it would also be worth watching on the mornings of the 1st & 2nd as activity may already be underway.
Good luck, stay warm, and don’t forget to Tweet those Quads to #Meteorwatch!