Only several days after New Year comes the best meteor shower of 2019 – the Quadrantids. It is every bit as impressive the Perseids in August and the Geminids in December. And the viewing conditions could not be better.

In the morning of January 4 the sky erupts in a brief celestial fireworks show. The peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower is typically brief, but very intense. The brevity of the shower’s peak combined with typically less than favourable winter weather means few people actually get to see it. It is well worth the effort – at peak the Quadrantids can produce over 100 meteors per hour.

Photo: Javor Kac.

An unusual, fresh meteor shower

The Quadrantids appear to be a very young meteor shower. Observations of the shower and analysis of orbits of the Quadrantids point to their origin in a catastrophic disruption of the parent body, likely a comet, only several centuries ago. The relatively recent origin of the shower explains its short, but intense peak – the dust particles have not yet had the time to spread into a wider, less dense stream, still being concentrated in a narrow, strong shower. A fairly large fragment of the parent body has been found within the Quadrantid stream: an apparently asteroidal body, designated 2003 EH1, approximately 3-4 km in diameter.

When and how to see the Quadrantids

The Quadrantids are lots of fun, but be ready to get up early and spend some time outside in the winter cold. The Quadrantids are a morning meteor shower: in the evening hours the radiant is low in the north, so few meteors will appear. As the radiant rises higher in the sky in the morning hours, the number of Quadrantids also increases. The best hours for viewing the shower are the final 2-3 predawn hours. The Moon will be out of the sky for all of the night. The 2019 Quadrantid shower is expected to be the best one for Europe in a long time: the peak is expected at 02h UTC on January 4 – in the early morning hours local time for Europe (3 am CET, 2 am GMT).

Quadrantid radiant position on peak night. Map: Heavens-above.com – check them out also for their excellent satellite pass prediction service.

The best time to see the meteor shower this year will be in the predawn hours of the morning of January 4. Find a good, dark location – any light pollution will strongly diminish the number of visible meteors. The darker the sky, the more meteors you will see. To see the Quadrantids you will not need a telescope or binoculars, just your naked eyes. Take a lawn chair with you, observing while standing is strenuous.

Dress appropriately! Chances are it will be freezing cold, you need to dress warm. Dress twice as warm as you think is necessary, after half an hour or an hour (or more) of observing the sky you will quickly get cold. Also bring a snack or two to keep your energy up! Do not overdo it on warm drinks, as they can actually increase heat loss. And – most importantly – bring company, it will be much more fun! Good luck!

Where to find dark skies for the Quadrantid meteor shower