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Quadrantid meteor shower kicks off 2013

Posted: 3 January 2013

The Quadrantid meteor shower kicks off the year in fine fashion although inclement weather can often disappoint keen observers wrapped up warm in the pre-dawn hours. The shower's peak occurs at 13h UT on 3 January and will be blighted somewhat by a waning 71 percent illuminated gibbous moon rising in southern Leo around the time the radiant (the point in the sky working backwards that the meteors seem to originate), located in northern Bootes, is climbing in the north-eastern sky. Under the best conditions the Quadrantids can produce up to a couple of meteors a minute in their short, sharp maximum, with best activity confined to a six-hour period within their normal limits of 1-6 January. There is quite a wide disparity in the quoted zenithal hourly rate (ZHR), (the probable number of meteors observed per hour from a shower having its radiant at the zenith), with figures as high as 120 or as low as 60.

The Quadrantid meteor shower hits its maximum on 3 January. AN graphic by Greg Smye–Rumsby.

The radiant lies in northern Bootes, east of Alkaid (gamma UMa), at the end of the Plough's handle and is circumpolar from the UK. Quadrantids meteors are slow to medium speed, around 43 km/s, compared with 35km/s for Geminids and 71km/s for Leonids. The brighter ones are often blue and yellow and like the Geminids, the showers appears to be produced from the debris of an asteroid (2003 EH1), possibly the extinct nucleus of a comet that broke up centuries ago.

The timing of the maximum favours observers in the USA, more specifically the west coast. From Los Angeles the predicted maximum occurs at 5am PST (13h UT) on 3 January, with still an hour to go before local skies start to lighten with the end of astronomical twilight at 6am. The radiant is already around 30 degrees up by 2am and the Moon is 40 degrees up in the south-east. By 5am the radiant has climbed to around 60 degrees. For observers further east it will still be worth observing as watches in the pre-dawn hours are likely to see some meteors from good sites in the rise to maximum. For UK observers try observing this evening (3/4 January) as some meteors should still be around but the radiant will be low in the north-east around 10pm. At least the Moon will be out of the way until 1am.

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3D Universe
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