First Meteor Shower of 2016 Peaks on January 4

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The first meteor display of 2016 – the Quadrantid meteor shower – will hit its peak early Monday morning (Jan. 4), with a strong display of “shooting stars” likely for Europe and North America.

Weather permitting, observers in the eastern regions of the United States and Canada will be in position for the maximum activity from the Quadrantid meteor shower, which is expected about 3 a.m. EST, when the radiant of the shower will be well up the dark northeastern sky. This is perfect timing – it falls right in our prime meteor-watching hours before dawn.

The meteors appear to radiate from a spot on the sky midway between the last handle star of the Big Dipper and the head of Draco, the Dragon. The radiant is actually located within the boundaries of the constellation of Boötes, the Herdsman, so we might expect them to be called the “Boötids.”

But back in the late-18th century there was a constellation here called Quadrans Muralis, the “Mural or Wall Quadrant” (an astronomical instrument). It is long-obsolete star pattern, invented in 1795 by J.J. Lalande to commemorate the instrument used to observe the stars in his catalogue. Adolphe Quetelet of Brussels Observatory discovered the shower in the 1830s, and shortly afterward it was noted by several astronomers in Europe and America. Thus they were christened “Quadrantids” and even though the constellation from which these meteors appear to radiate no longer exists, the shower’s original moniker continues to this day.

For mid-northern observers, the meteor shower’s radiant stays near the northern horizon until midnight but rises high in the northeast by dawn. And come Monday morning observers all across North America may experience one of the best meteor showers of the year. Morning twilight will not interfere until about 6 a.m. local time. The predicted hour for the peak – 3 a.m. EST – comes from the Canadian Observer’s Handbook.

At greatest activity, probably anywhere from 60 to 120 meteors per hour will be seen. These moderately swift, many leaving trains, may be seen by a single observer with a dark sky. Any light pollution cuts down the numbers greatly. Give your eyes at least 15 to 20 minutes to adapt to the dark before started a serious meteor count.

According to Guy Ottewell, editor of the 2016 edition of the Astronomical Calendar, “Faint Quadrantids caused by small particles may peak half a day earlier, and there may sometimes be a second peak some hours later, detected partly by radio observations.”

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SOURCE: Space.com, Joe Rao