30 December 2010

Quadrantids Meteor Shower - January 3-4, 2011

2011 starts with an impressive meteor shower for those ready to brave a cold night. The Quadrantids take place the night of Monday January 3rd into the morning of Tuesday January 4th, and are made better by the fact that the Moon is new, meaning no interference from moonlight.

As always, the best viewing of any meteor shower is from a dark location, ideally away from city lights. But I have had some success right in my backyard in San Francisco by positioning myself away from direct lights such as streetlights and houselights, and allowing myself 5 to 10 minutes to adapt to the darkness. Once dark adapted, the winter sky shimmers and Quadrantids are readily visible. In dark skies outside of cities you can expect up to 2 meteors per minute, but in the City I am happy to see 1 meteor every few minutes. This year should be as good a show as any, and despite our rainy Northern California weather the outlook is good.

To see this shower, position yourself facing northeast but give yourself as much of a view of the sky as possible. A lawn chair is best (along with blankets and a hat), as the meteors appear to originate in the constellation Bootes in the northeast part of the sky, but the meteors radiate in every direction away from this point.

For some fun background and history of this meteor shower, check out Astronomy.com and NASA's "What's Up" blog series. Image is courtesy of NASA.

Stay warm, and here's to good skies!


Anonymous said...

Do you mean north-northwest and not northeast? MSNBC is reporting north-northwest.


The Urban Astronomer said...

The MSNBC article is not wrong, but is a bit misleading. First of all, I know from experience that the radiant is in the NorthEast in the late night and early morning. But to verify this, take a close look at the image on my blog or on MSNBC. The image itself shows the Big Dipper pointing to the North Star (at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper), which itself is on the left-side of the image. That is because the right of the North Star is the NorthEast direction in the sky, which is where you will find Bootes and Arcturus :-)

However, after sunset in the evening the radiant is in the NorthWest part of the sky, descending lower and then rotating around the North Star to the NorthEast where it rises late in the night and into the early morning. So MSNBC is correct in saying NorthWest if you look after sunset, but the best time to look is late night and early morning when the radiant is in the NorthEast.

- Paul

yakifung said...

I'm bummed that I most likely missed this event. But, I must ask just in case. Will there still be a show tonight, Jan. 4th?

The Urban Astronomer said...

hi yakifung - I don't think there will be much to see tonight (Jan 4th into the 5th). The most concentrated period to see the Quadrantids was Monday night. I was out Monday for a while around midnight and saw a few small meteors, and again Tuesday morning for a while and saw one big meteor and some small ones too. But this was the trailing edge of the shower. Stay tuned: we have more meteor showers and other astronomical events happening all the time!

-- Paul