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All eyes to the sky: Quadrantids are on their way

By: Angela Fritz , 10:03 PM GMT on January 03, 2012

The Northern Hemisphere is in for a meteor shower show tonight around 3 a.m. local time, after the moon sets. Assuming your area is cloud and light pollution free, you'll have a good chance of seeing this meteor shower. After you head out into the dark, it will take 15-30 minutes for your eyes to adjust, so be patient!

Jason Samenow sums up the viewing potential in the U.S. in his Capital Weather Gang blog this morning:

For the Quadrantids, unlike the longer lasting Geminid and Perseid showers, if you snooze, you lose. Viewing will only be possible between about 2:30 and 5 a.m. with an expected peak around 3 or 4 a.m.

You’ll want to look to the northern sky to see the meteors, between the constellation Bootes and the handle of the Big Dipper.

Across much of the Midwest and eastern third of the U.S., sky conditions should be sufficiently clear to allow viewing. Partial cloud cover may partially obscure the view in the northern mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Where skies are clear, sky watchers will need to brave frigid overnight lows in the single digits and teens in many locations.

WunderPhotographer darnold caught this Geminid meteor (lower left) on a background of star trails in December 2010.

More on the Quadrantids event from NASA:

Peaking in the wee morning hours of Jan. 4, the Quadrantids have a maximum rate of about 100 per hour, varying between 60-200. The waxing gibbous moon will set around 3 a.m. local time, leaving about two hours of excellent meteor observing before dawn. It's a good thing, too, because unlike the more famous Perseid and Geminid meteor showers, the Quadrantids only last a few hours -- it's the morning of Jan. 4, or nothing.

Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. Dynamical studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see before dawn on Jan. 4 are the small debris from this fragmentation. After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth's surface -- a fiery end to a long journey!

The Quadrantids derive their name from the constellation of Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant), which was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Located between the constellations of Bootes and Draco, Quadrans represents an early astronomical instrument used to observe and plot stars. Even though the constellation is no longer recognized by astronomers, it was around long enough to give the meteor shower -- first seen in 1825 -- its name.

Check out that NASA link for a "live all-sky camera feed," too. And if you're taking your camera out with you tonight, upload your images to WunderPhotos!


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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12. presslord
2:38 AM GMT on January 12, 2012
Quoting angelafritz:

Love it! I had a hard time convincing Shaun it was cute, though. :)

well....we aren't all as smart as he is...for the simple minded among us, it's an easy illustration ;-)
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11. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist
12:40 AM GMT on January 12, 2012
Quoting presslord:
My New Year's gift for you, Angela:Link

Love it! I had a hard time convincing Shaun it was cute, though. :)
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10. presslord
6:28 PM GMT on January 11, 2012
My New Year's gift for you, Angela:Link
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9. BaltimoreBrian
6:11 AM GMT on January 05, 2012
It was too dusty and cloudy here to see any meteors. Did have tan snow though. Takes the fun out of snow when it falls already dirty.
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8. DoomsDayResearch
3:32 AM GMT on January 05, 2012
Doomsdayresearch here.
The big weather story this week was a return to more typical winter conditions. Despite the continued early-season deficit of snowfall and precipitation in general, temperatures are trending overall toward seasonal normals 2012 and wind speeds are increasing as well. Importantly, precipitation occurred on six of seven days and included some of the frozen varieties daily.

Winds at hurricane force or greater blew on four days, and gusts exceeding 100 MPH roared on Wednesday and Thursday, having just missing the century mark on Tuesday at 2012 MPH. Thursday averaged over 80 MPH for the entire day, and doomsdayresearch included a peak gust of 122 MPH from the NW. Wednesday and Thursday also brought wind chill warnings to the higher summits, with mercury readings bottoming out at -14 and wind chills in the -50 to -70 degree range.

Although no major, large-scale storms impacted the region, significant weather disturbances reached the summits almost daily. The largest storm system moved in on Tuesday into early Wednesday to deposit an impressive doomsday 8+ inches mixed frozen precipitation with liquid content over 2 inches, including sleet, ice pellets, snow grains and snow. Following this midweek event, cold, arctic air, fierce winds and blowing snow made outdoor weather observations challenging. Friday and Saturday were unsettled and generally foggy and showery, as several weak low-pressure systems meandered through the region. At last on Sunday high pressure took control to produce a near-perfect New Year's Day with mostly sunny skies, moderate temperatures and light winds 2012.
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7. airman45
8:05 PM GMT on January 04, 2012
Thank you, LowerCal. Would have been perfect timing as I am on my way to work at that time. But unfortunately we had bad weather due to an Atlantic storm system.
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6. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist
6:44 PM GMT on January 04, 2012
Sounds like we all missed it. Did anyone see them?
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5. LowerCal
5:50 PM GMT on January 04, 2012
airman45, you are correct. With the expected peak at 8:20am your local time the peak wouldn't have been visible at your location.

However before your morning twilight began at approximately 6:45am local (0545 GMT) the run up before the peak would have been a pretty good show.

Quadrantid Meteor Activity Rate (Reload to update.)

Credit: International Meteor Organization
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4. airman45
12:59 PM GMT on January 04, 2012
Even though we were socked in Wednesday morning by an Atlantic storm, I don't believe it would have been visible in Western Europe if the peak was 0720 GMT (I am GMT+1). A I correct in this? Sunrise is currently 8:15 a.m.
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3. LowerCal
12:49 AM GMT on January 04, 2012
It's true that moonset doesn't change much across a few timezones on a given night. At 30°N moonset is about 2:45am local time ± half an hour depending on how far east or west you are in your timezone.

However the actual peak rate of incoming meteors is expected to be centered on 0720 GMT (see IMO Meteor Shower Calendar 2012 | International Meteor Organization - Quadrantids (QUA) ) which is 11:20pm Pacific Daylight Time. As meteor showers go the peak of the Quadrantids is relatively brief (about 2 hours) so consideration of one's timezone can make a significant difference how many meteors can be seen.
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2. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist
11:58 PM GMT on January 03, 2012
Us west-coasters will be able to see it at 3am local time, too. It's 3am for everyone, not just the east coast.
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1. LowerCal
11:53 PM GMT on January 03, 2012
If I were on the East Coast I would definitely get up for the coincidence of peak shower rate and moonset at about 2:30-3:00am.

Here on the West Coast I'll be checking for what I can see of the expected peak in spite of the moon from 11PM to midnight. If there is no hint of meteors then and I happen to wake before dawn I'll check the sky then too.

BTW something that often works better than looking directly toward the source of a meteor shower is to look toward the darkest part of your sky. That direction is usually overhead or high in the sky toward the lowest population density. Meteors can appear in any area of the sky and the ones nearest the source have the shortest trails. You can spend a few minutes trying each and see which is working better.
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Atmospheric Scientist here at Weather Underground, with serious nerd love for tropical cyclones and climate change. Twitter: @WunderAngela

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