A sky map of the Quadrantids peak in 2022. (Image credit: Starry Night)
Look up! The Quadrantid Meteor Shower is peaking today. The main challenge in spotting the Quadrantids is catching them when they are active because they are a very short-lived display.
What is the Quadrantid Meteor Shower?
The Quadrantids are usually active between the end of December and the second week of January and peak around January 3rd into January 4th. Unlike other meteor showers that tend to stay at their peak for about two days, the peak period of the Quadrantids only lasts a few hours.
The shower owes its name to the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis. The constellation was left off a list of constellations drawn out by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1922. Still, because the shower had already been named after Quadrans Muralis, its name was not changed. The Quadrantids are also sometimes called Bootids after the modern constellation, Boötes.
The Quadrantids are associated with asteroid 2003 EH1. The asteroid takes about 5.5 years to orbit around the Sun.
While many meteors arrive between sunrise and sunset, they are usually not visible due to daylight. Some can also be seen before midnight, often grazing the Earth’s atmosphere. These meteors have been described as traveling at a medium speed and being reasonably bright and usually blue. But only a few, maybe just 5 to 10 percent, also leave fine, long-spreading, and persistent silver trails in their wake.
Meteors generally come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids. When comets come around the Sun, the dust they emit gradually spreads into a dusty trail around their orbits. Every year, the Earth passes through these debris trails, allowing the bits to collide with our atmosphere, disintegrating to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky.
The Quadrantid’s Peak
Meteor showers are very predictable events, so astronomers know exactly when you have the best chance of seeing them.
The Quadrantids characteristically spend only about 12 hours rising from quarter-strength to peak activity, and their subsequent decline can take as little as 4 hours. Also, skywatchers report seeing the Quadrantids in dramatically different numbers from different hemispheres on Earth.
According to Margaret Campbell-Brown and Peter Brown in the 2022 edition of the “Observer’s Handbook” of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (as found on page 254), the “Quads,” as they are nicknamed, are due to peak this year at around 5:00 PM AST (2100 GMT) on Monday, January 3rd, 2022. That’s excellent timing if you live in East Asia, where skywatchers in ideal conditions could expect to see up to 60 to 120 meteors per hour.
But for skywatchers in the Caribbean, you’ll be facing the “wrong way” when this shower reaches its peak. The shower peaks in the mid-afternoon during the bright sunny daytime. That means that many skywatchers will have essentially no chance of seeing meteors streaking across the sky during the shower’s peak.
While the timing of the shower’s peak isn’t great, there are certainly other times during which you might spot some “shooting stars.”
Conditions for Viewing
For those in the Caribbean missing the spectacle during its peak, your best chance at catching some Quadrantid activity will come during the predawn hours of Monday morning and Tuesday morning. After about 4:00 AM AST (0800 GMT), the radiant or emanation point for these meteors will be climbing well up into the northeast; it’s highest before dawn.
The shower will be building toward its peak later that day, but you still might glimpse as many as 15 to possibly 30 meteors per hour. While this isn’t the onslaught of bright meteor streaks that observers in East Asia might see, it’s still enough meteor activity to be entertaining and to perhaps lure you outside during the (very) early morning hours.
You can use an AR app like Night Sky on your smartphone to track down the constellation. The best place to look is to the north-northeast and near the horizon, gradually moving higher into the skies as the night into morning progresses with as many as 15 to possibly 30 meteors per hour.
The radiant point of the Quadrantid shower makes an approximate right angle with the Big Dipper and the bright star Arcturus. If you trace the paths of the Quadrantid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from this point on the starry sky. You don’t need to find the meteor shower radiant to see the Quadrantid meteors. The meteors will radiate from the northern sky but appear in all parts of the sky.
But, there are impediments to viewing in Trinidad and Tobago.
Light pollution is a significant issue in most populated areas across Western and Northern Trinidad and the Western half of Tobago. Unfortunately, there is little you can do about this beyond traveling into darker areas such as Northern Coastal Trinidad or Eastern and Southern parts of the island. The good news is that light pollution from the moon will be non-existent as the New Moon occurred on January 2nd, 2022.
Weatherwise, partly cloudy skies across Trinidad and mostly cloudy skies across Tobago, with brisk showers, are forecast.
It’s a Meteor – Not an Asteroid or Comet
It may be self-explanatory, as it is literally in the name of the shower, but the “shooting stars” you may see in the skies over the next several nights are meteors.
The terminology of these space objects matters, as a meteorite would have impacts on land, while a meteor does not.
Meteor and meteorite strikes are more common than you might think. Meteoroids between a millimeter and a centimeter burn up in the atmosphere and appear as shooting stars. Dust-grain size meteoroids strike the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly, but they often go unnoticed.
Larger strikes are less common—a one-meter meteoroid strikes the Earth once each year on average and would reach the ground as smaller debris. In contrast, a 100-meter meteoroid strikes the Earth approximately every 10,000 years, according to a Tufts University fact sheet. Meteoroids over 1 kilometer hitting Earth are catastrophic events that occur every 1 million years on average.
Meteoroids do not discriminate where they land or enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Hence, it is well within the possibility that this could happen across Trinidad, Tobago, or any other Caribbean island.
But medium-size strikes can be dramatic spectacles—and in some cases, dangerous. The Chelyabinsk meteor that struck southern Russia in February 2013 blew out windows and caused indirect injuries to almost 1,500 people.
Tips for Viewing
- Realize that this shower rises gradually to its peak. Few meteor showers are a one-night event. You could start tonight!
2. Be aware of the time of moonset each night. As much as possible, in the weeks between now and the peak, you’ll want to be out looking after moonset.
3. Watch in the hours before dawn Most meteor showers are best after midnight, and the Ursids are no exception. After midnight, the part of Earth you’re standing on has turned into the meteor stream, which means the radiant point for the shower will be above your horizon.
4. Avoid city lights. This should go without saying, but just a reminder. A wide-open area – a field or a lonely country road – is best if you’re serious about watching meteors.
5. Camp! Nothing beats a set-up before the night begins. Of course, you’ll never see as many meteors in the evening as you will after midnight, but – if you are watching during the evening hours – you might catch an earth grazer, which is a slow-moving and long-lasting meteor, traveling horizontally across your sky. Earthgrazers might be seen even in bright moonlight. They tend to be seen in the late evening or around midnight.
6. Make yourself comfortable. Sprawl out upon a reclining lawn chair with an open sky view. Bring along a blanket or sleeping bag. Your eyes can take as long as 20 minutes to adapt to the dark, so give yourself at least an hour of observation time.
7. Watch with a friend or friends, and try facing in different directions so that if someone sees a meteor, that person can call out – “meteor!” – to the rest.
8. Notice the meteors’ speeds and colors, and watch for meteor trains. A meteor train is a persistent glow in the air, left by some meteors after they have faded from view. Trains are caused by luminous ionized matter left in the wake of this incoming space debris. They linger for a moment or two after the meteor has gone.
9. Embrace the night. We hear people bubble with excitement about seeing meteors in all sorts of conditions – moon or no moon – city lights or no city lights. So, camp out and make a night of it! Read more.
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