Early each January, the Quadrantid meteor shower provides one of the most intense meteor showers of the year, with a short, sharp maximum lasting only a few hours.
The Quadrantid meteor shower is actually coming from the northeast corner of the constellation Bootes, the Shepherd, so we can expect them to be called “Botids” and peak in 2023 on the night of January. 3 and Jan. 4. But back in the late 18th century there was a constellation called Quadrans Muralis, “Fresco or Quadrant of the Wall” (astronomical instrument). This is a long-obsolete model of a star, invented in 1795 by J. J. Lalande in memory of the instrument used to observe the stars in his catalog.
Adolphe Quetelet of the Brussels Observatory discovered the meteor shower in the 1830s and was noticed shortly thereafter by several astronomers in Europe and America. Thus they were called the “Quadrantids,” and although the constellation from which these meteors appear to emanate no longer exists, the stream’s original name remains to this day. We have a complete guide on how to see the Quadrantida meteor shower to help you spot its bright display.
RELATED: Best meteor showers of 2023
Crumbs of a dead comet?
At the most active, 60 to 120 shower members per hour should be seen. However, the Quadrantid influx has a sharp peak: 6 hours before and after the maximum, these blue meteors appear at only half their maximum speed. This means that the particle stream is narrow – perhaps formed relatively recently from a small comet.
In fact, in 2003 NASA astronomer Peter Jenniskens discovered a near-Earth asteroid (2003 EH1). (will open in a new tab) it seemed to be in the right orbit to create the Quadrantids. Some astronomers believe that this asteroid is actually part of an old, “extinct” comet; possibly a comet recorded by Chinese, Korean and Japanese observers in 1490–1491. Perhaps this comet broke up, and some of its parts turned into meteoroids, which make up the Quadrantid stream.
If you’re hoping to photograph the Quadrantids, check out our guides on how to photograph a meteor shower, as well as the best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography.
2023: Bad four-year year
Image 1 of 2
Unfortunately, 2023 will not be a good year to look for the Quadrantida meteor shower. Blame it on bad timing.
This year’s peak rainfall, according to Margaret Campbell-Brown and Peter Brown in the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s 2023 Observer’s Handbook, is predicted for 10:00 pm EDT on January 1st. 3. Goal Jan. 6, the full moon will light up the sky. This means that all night hours of Tuesday, Jan. 3, Wednesday, Jan. 4, the sky will be illuminated by bright moonlight; a bright, waxing, bulging moon – 94% lit – won’t set until dawn.
This moonlight will extinguish all but the brightest meteors. This meteor display is best seen before dawn – around 6 a.m. local time – when the radiant of this shower, where the meteors appear to be coming from, rises in the northeastern sky.
If you decide to go looking for meteors, don’t forget to pack up! After all, it’s winter in the northern hemisphere. As one astronomer said before observing a cold meteor: “Take the advice of a man whose teeth chattered more than one winter night – bundle up much warmer than you think is necessary!” And if you can’t find someone to share the viewing duties with you, a thermos of your favorite hot drink—coffee, tea, or cocoa—is the perfect companion on a chilly night.
2024 could be a winner!
As bad as things have been for the Quadrantids this year, next year will be a very different story.
In 2024, the peak of the Quadrantida meteor shower falls on January 4, Eastern Standard Time. 4, which favors eastern North America. And the Moon will be in a much more favorable phase: the thick, waning crescent is only 47% illuminated in the constellation Virgo and interferes with meteor viewing much less than this year. With clear skies, Quads could prove to be one of the best meteor displays of 2024.
So Quadrantide fans can echo the mantra old Dodger fans in Brooklyn used to say at the end of most baseball seasons: “Wait until next year!”
Editor’s Note: If you’ve taken a great picture of the Quadrantida meteor shower and would like to share it with Space.com readers, please send your photos, comments, name, and location to spacephotos@.
Joe Rao is an instructor and guest lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium in New York. (will open in a new tab). He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine. (will open in a new tab)Farmer’s Almanac (will open in a new tab) and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) and on facebook (will open in a new tab).