When and how to see the Quadrantid meteor showers
The Quadrantids are a shooting star show known to reliably peak at the start of January every year. These are always worth looking out for, with space agencies such as NASA recognising the Quadrantids as one of the year’s best meteor showers.
The majority of meteor showers have a two-day peak, which makes seeing the resulting shooting stars relatively easy.
However, the Quadrantids’ peak is significantly shorter, lasting only a few hours.
This peak is truncated because of the shower’s slightly thinner particle stream as well as our planet crossing its path at a perpendicular angle.
Yet despite the narrow window of opportunity, NASA confirms as many as 200 Quadrantid meteors can be seen per hour under perfect conditions.
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The 2021 Quadrantids UK peak is expected to take place just prior to sunset on Saturday, January 2.
Unfortunately, 2021 is not shaping up to be a vintage year to spot the Quadrantids for two reasons.
As already mentioned, peak activity will arrive during brighter daylight or twilight conditions.
And this problem is compounded because bright light from the waning Full Moon will further spoil the show.
This means many stargazers may simply resort to watching the 2021 Quadrantids via a live stream from the comfort of their home.
How did the Quadrantids meteor shower get its name?
The Quadrantids actually radiate from the northeast corner of the constellation of Boötes – more commonly called the Herdsman.
Astronomy enthusiasts may therefore be justified in wondering why they are not called the ‘Boötids’.
But in the late 18th century there was a constellation known as Quadrans Muralis or the ‘Wall Quadrant’.
This is now a long-obsolete star pattern, named in 1795 by JJ Lalande in recognition of the astronomical instrument used to observe the stars.
Adolphe Quetelet of Brussels Observatory was the first to spot the meteor shower in the 1830s.
The ensuing shooting stars were then christened ‘Quadrantids’, even though the constellation from which these meteors appear to originate no longer exists.
How to view the 2021 Quadrantids meteor shower:
Despite the far from ideal viewing conditions for this year’s Quadrantids meteor shower, it should still be worthwhile to take a look.
NASA offers some advice to maximising people’s chances of seeing the Quadrantids in person.
The space agency wrote in a blog post: ”To view the Quadrantids, find an area well away from city or street lights.
“Come prepared for winter weather with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair.
“Lie flat on your back with your feet facing northeast and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible.
“In less than 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors.
“Be patient—the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”
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