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The Quadrantid meteor shower is 2020’s first major meteor shower. We’ll have moon-free skies during the predawn hours on January 4 for this year’s peak, expected late night January 3 until dawn January 4. Although the Quadrantids have been known to produce some 50-100 meteors in a dark sky, their peak is extremely narrow, time-wise. Peaks of the Perseid or Geminid meteor showers persist for a day or more, allowing all time zones around the world to enjoy a good display of Perseids or Geminids. But the Quadrantids’ peak lasts only a few hours.
So you have to be on the right part of Earth – preferably with the radiant high in your sky – in order to experience the peak of the Quadrantids. What’s more, the shower favors the Northern Hemisphere because its radiant point is so far north on the sky’s dome.
So you need some luck to see the Quadrantids, and being in the Northern Hemisphere does help. Who will see the 2020 shower? Keep in mind the prediction of the Quadrantid peak represents an educated guess, not an ironclad guarantee.
That said, in 2020 the International Meteor Organization gives the peak as January 4 at 08:00 UTC. If that prediction of the peak holds true, North America has a good shot at viewing the shower at its best during the predawn hours on January 4.
Just know that meteor showers are notorious for defying the best-laid forecasts. Thus for the Quadrantids – as for any meteor shower – your best plan is simply to look for yourself.
To find the radiant, you will need to look for the constellation Bootes. The easiest way to find it is to look north for the Big Dipper. Then, follow the "arc" of the Big Dipper's handle across the sky to the red giant star Arcturus, which anchors the bottom of Bootes.
If you happen to catch the shower at an off-peak moment, rates of about 25 meteors per hour are still expected. In the past, Lunsford has recommended keeping Bootes in your field of view, but looking slightly away so that you catch the meteors with the longer tails.
Where do they come from?
The Quadrantids are thought to be associated with asteroid 2003 EH1, which is likely an extinct comet, Cooke has told Space.com. "It was either a piece of a comet or a comet itself, and then it became extinct," which means that all the ice and other volatiles on the comet have evaporated, he said.
The asteroid has a perihelion (closest approach to the sun) just inside the Earth's orbit, which is pretty far away in celestial terms. Scientists also think that the asteroid may have some connection to the Comet 96P/Machholtz, a comet that orbits the sun once every six years. First observations of the Quadrantids shower appear to be in Europe in the 1820s and 1830s. [How Meteor Showers Work (Infographic)]
How to get the best view
Binoculars and telescopes are not useful for meteor showers; your eyes are enough to see the shooting stars streaking overhead. Find a dark sky and give your eyes about 20-30 minutes to adjust.
Dress warmly and face a little away from the radiant in Bootes to catch the longer-streaking meteors.
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