The first major meteor shower event of 2024, the Quadrantids, is set to put on a dazzling show this week, peaking on night of January 3-4. With ideal dark sky conditions, observers across the Northern Hemisphere could witness over 100 meteors per hour streaking brilliantly across the night sky.
What is the Quadrantid Meteor Shower?
The Quadrantids meteor shower occurs annually in early January when Earth passes through debris left behind by an asteroid called 2003 EH1. This rocky body takes over 5 years to orbit the sun once, and crosses Earth’s orbital path in early January each year.
As 2003 EH1’s debris enters Earth’s atmosphere, the particles burn up high in the atmosphere, creating bright meteors that appear to radiate outwards from the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis – thus the name “Quadrantids”.
When and Where Will the Meteor Shower Peak?
The peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to occur on Wednesday night, January 3 into Thursday morning January 4, 2023, with the best viewing hours between midnight and dawn on January 4 when the radiant point of the shower will be highest in the sky.
Observers across the Northern Hemisphere and as far south as northern South America and southern Africa will have a chance to spot Quadrantid meteors under optimal dark sky conditions. The further north you are located, the higher the radiant point will be in the sky, leading to the potential to witness even more meteors.
Quadrantid Meteor Shower 2024 Peak Forecast
This year’s Quadrantid meteor shower is forecasted to be one of the strongest showers of 2024. Under ideal conditions, observers could witness upwards of 100-120 meteors per hour at the peak, along with a higher-than-normal number of bright fireball meteors.
|Increasing, 10-20 meteors per hour
|Wednesday Night into Thursday Morning (January 3-4)
|~100-120 meteors per hour
|Decreasing, but still active at ~20-40 meteors per hour
|Low activity, <10 meteors per hour
Where to Look in the Sky
To view the most Quadrantid meteors, observers should face the northeastern sky in the direction of the radiant point located within the former Quadrans Muralis constellation northeast of the bright orange giant star Arcturus.
Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but tracing back their paths will lead back to the radiant point near the Big Dipper asterism’s handle. For optimal viewing, get as far away from city lights as possible with a wide open view of the sky.
How to Maximize Your Meteor Viewing
To catch the most shooting star activity, bundle up and give your eyes at least 20-30 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Lie flat on your back and scan the sky – no equipment is needed. This year the moon will be a thin crescent, creating ideal dark sky conditions for meteor watching.
Bring warm blankets, give your phone a break, avoid flashlights and artificial lighting, and don’t forget the hot chocolate! Share the experience with friends and family and enjoy nature’s dazzling celestial fireworks show.
What Causes the Quadrantid’s Intense Annual Display?
Compared to most meteor showers which originate from icy comets, the Quadrantids have the rocky asteroid 2003 EH1 to thank for their prolific annual display. Over 500 years ago, 2003 EH1 likely shed debris that has progressively spread out along the asteroid’s orbital path.
When this concentrated stream of particles intersects Earth’s orbit, significantly more shooting stars can be produced compared to the more diffuse streams left behind comets.
The Quadrantids also tend to produce more bright fireballs compared to showers like the Perseids or Geminids. Larger particle sizes combined with the high velocities (up to 41 km/s) at which the meteoroids hit Earth’s atmosphere lead to exceptionally brilliant meteors.
What’s Next for the Quadrantids and Other 2024 Meteor Showers
The strong 2024 Quadrantid meteor shower kicks off an exciting year of celestial events, with two more noteworthy meteor displays also expected.
The Eta Aquariids peak around May 5-6, followed by the popular Perseid meteor shower which peaks around August 12-13, where darker skies could allow observers to witness over 100 Perseid meteors per hour under optimum conditions.
The Quadrantid meteor shower’s Parent body, asteroid 2003 EH1, will continue its 5.52 year orbital journey around the sun. Each year in early January, Earth will cross 2003 EH1’s path again, giving observers across the Northern Hemisphere a chance to witness the prolific Quadrantid meteor shower.
Next year, 2025’s Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to fall short of 2024’s spectacular show, with the peak forecasted to fall just 36 hours after the moon becomes full. But despite next year’s lesser show, the Quadrantids will continue to dazzle every year in early January, thanks to the rock-based debris strewn across the inner solar system by asteroid 2003 EH1 over 500 years ago.
The first major meteor shower of 2024 is sure to impress, with optimal viewing conditions in store across the Northern Hemisphere on January 3-4. Bundle up, let your eyes adjust to the darkness, and enjoy nature’s celestial fireworks show as the Quadrantids send over a hundred brilliant shooting stars streaking across the northern night sky.
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