Meteors battle a Full Moon

The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks under a bright sky January 3/4, but a little creativity should allow observers to still spot a few dozen "shooting stars" per hour.
By | Published: December 29, 2014
Quadrantid meteor shower finder chart
A nearly Full Moon disrupts the peak of this year’s Quadrantid meteor shower, though observers still could see a dozen or two meteors per hour.
Astronomy: Roen Kelly
The annual Quadrantid meteor shower is normally one of the year’s best, but this year it has to compete with a Full Moon, which will drown out all but the brightest “shooting stars.”

The Quadrantids, which are active December 28 through January 12, peak the night of January 3/4 and can produce as many as 120 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. Unfortunately, a Full Moon peak of January 4 makes finding such dark skies impossible.

According to Senior Editor Richard Talcott, your best bet to catch the Quadrantids this year is to observe in the hour before dawn. “Pick a spot where you can hide the Moon, which hangs low in the west, behind some buildings or trees,” he says. The show won’t reach a great rate, but you still could see a dozen or two meteors per hour.

Senior Editor Michael Bakich explains how best to view an meteor shower.

In this video, Senior Editor Michael E. Bakich gives tips on spending a comfortable and fruitful night while meteor-watching. Click on the image to go to the video.

The Quadrantids are named after an obsolete constellation. In 1928, the International Astronomical Union left Quadrans Muralis off the list of official stellar groupings. The Quadrantid meteor shower, however, already had its moniker. The name stuck, although the shower is sometimes called the Boötids, after Boötes, the modern constellation from which the meteors appear to emanate.

Meteors appear because small particles of dust collide with Earth’s atmosphere. The friction between these motes and the atmosphere vaporizes the dust, leaving only a trail of light in the sky. Meteor showers usually occur when Earth passes through a comet’s stream of debris — discarded dust that traces a comet’s orbit.

The Quadrantids, however, occur when Earth passes through the debris tail of a near-Earth asteroid called 2003 EH1. It orbits the Sun once every 5.5 years and was discovered just 10 years ago. To see the meteors caused by this space rock, look one-third of the way across the sky from the radiant (the spot on which the meteor paths appear to be centered) — in this case, in Boötes.

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