The annual Quadrantid meteor shower may be particularly visible to North Americans sometime early this week, especially those living in the western half of the continent.
For a bit of history on the Quadrantids, one has to go back to the late 18th century when astronomers had spotted a constellation near Bootes called Quadrans Muralis, or the “Mural or Wall Quadrant.” Space.com explained that the pattern was named after the instrument used by French astronomer Jerome Lalande to observe stars.
Decades later, in the 1830s, the actual Quadrantid meteor shower was discovered by Adolphe Quetelet of the Brussels Observatory, and that’s what led to astronomers from other parts of the world observing it and naming the meteor shower after the constellation it radiates from, even if said pattern is now considered “long-obsolete.”
— AMSMETEORS (@amsmeteors) January 2, 2017
As for the origin of the Quadrantids, it was recently theorized that the shower may have originated from the remnants of an old “extinct” comet that may have been documented by Asian observers in the late 15th century. NASA astronomer Peter Jenniskens discovered in 2003 that the near-Earth asteroid 2003 EH1, which may have been the remnants of said comet, may have been on the right orbit to make it a plausible origin point for the Quadrantids.
According to CNET, the chances of the Quadrantids hitting their peak are at their best at around 6 a.m. PST of Tuesday, January 3. And since these meteor showers are known for the fireball-like displays skygazers often get to see, the American Meteor Society offered its own tips for those hoping to catch the Quadrantids while they can.
“Since Quadrantid meteors can be seen in any portion of the sky, face toward the darkest direction that is free of trees or other objects that may block your view of the sky. Don’t look straight up; rather look halfway up to see the most activity.”
While most sources suggest that the Quadrantid meteor shower may peak early today, there are others that suggest that skywatchers may still be able to catch them later on tonight, or possibly on Wednesday.
Writing for EarthSky, Bruce McClure explained that the Quadrantids do take place each year in the first week of January and is traditionally most viewable by those in the Northern Hemisphere. But it’s important that viewers have to be on Earth’s night side in order to view the meteor shower at its “short” peak. Further, he added that the best time to view the shower may vary depending on where in the world you’re located and may take place after the Tuesday morning peak most are looking forward to.
— Urban Myth (@UrbanMyth3) January 3, 2017
McClure did acknowledge, though, that there has been “some agreement” that the peak may take place on Tuesday, January 3, at 15 hours UTC, or 8 a.m. Pacific time.
“If the peak does occur (on Tuesday morning), the Americas will have better luck on the morning of January 3. Those in Asia should try the hours after midnight on the morning of January 4. For all of us, some good news. In 2017, the waxing crescent moon will leave the sky during the evening hours. For all of us, the hours between midnight and dawn (either January 3 or 4) will be best.”
For the year 2017, the Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to be especially visible as compared to previous showers, and if you’re reading this now, then you may want to get ready to start looking out for them. But as mentioned, the meteor shower may be easiest to view for those in the Western part of North America, with up to 60 to 120 meteors visible per hour. Those on the East Coast may be able to find up to 30 to 60 meteors per hour.