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Tue, 03 Jan 2017

New Year Shooting Stars

Copyright Robin Scagell/Galaxy
A Quadrantid meteor photographed on 4 January 2012 by Robin Scagell.

One of the major displays of meteors – shooting stars – takes place during the first few days of January. The Quadrantid meteors have their peak of activity on the night of Tuesday 3 January to Wednesday 4 January, though lesser numbers could be seen between 1 and 6 January.

The Quadrantids can be seen all night, but the best numbers are likely to be seen late on the evening of 3 January. They appear to come from a spot in the sky (the radiant) not far from the handle of the Plough in the northern part of the sky, roughly below the Pole Star. This area of the sky, between Draco, Bootes and Ursa Major, formed a constellation called Quadrans Muralis, now no longer used, but the name is still remembered in the meteors that radiate from it in early January. The radiant is at its lowest altitude at around 8 pm local time and is highest in the sky at the end of the night.

How many meteors are you likely to see? Peak rates vary from year to year. Though the estimated rate is given as 80 per hour, this would only apply under ideal conditions, with no Moon. This year, the Moon will be a crescent Moon setting in the early evening, so will not interfere very seriously. From a dark country site you may see one every minute or so on average. There’s always the chance of an unexpected burst in numbers, and equally there could be a long gap with none to be seen, so don’t give up too soon!

More details of the Quadrantids are given on this web page, and there's a great guide to the best way to record your observations in our guide to Observing Meteors.

Clear skies in January do of course mean freezing temperatures, so make sure you wrap up very well.


Added by: Robin Scagell