Quadrantid meteor shower: How to watch 2024’s first celestial event

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January kicks off with the Quadrantids, one of the quickest yet strongest meteor showers of the year.

The shower is expected to peak overnight between January 3 and 4, according to the American Meteor Society. Sky-gazers in the Northern Hemisphere can best view the shower between the late-night hours of Wednesday and dawn on Thursday.

Meteors are leftover pieces from broken asteroids and comet particles that spread out in dusty trails orbiting the sun. Each year, Earth passes through the debris trails, and pieces of dust and rock create colorful, fiery displays called meteor showers as they disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere.

The Quadrantid shower is notoriously hard to observe due to its brief peak of six hours. The peak has a limited duration compared with most meteor showers, which peak over two days, because the shower only has a thin stream of particles and Earth passes through the densest concentration of those particles quickly at a perpendicular angle, according to NASA.

Predictions for the shower’s peak range from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. ET (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Coordinated Universal Time), but meteors will be visible for hours beforehand. The American Meteor Society recommends keeping an eye out for meteors from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. local time for those across North America.

The earlier time favors those along North America’s East Coast and the later time is more favorable for observers in Hawaii and Alaska. The Quadrantids usually aren’t visible in the Southern Hemisphere because the shower’s radiant point doesn’t rise that high in its sky before dawn.

Check Time and Date’s site to see what your chances are like to view the event.

What you’ll see

The peak can include more than 100 visible meteors per hour. You may even glimpse some fireballs during the meteor shower, which are bright blasts of light and color associated with larger particles that linger longer than typical meteor streaks, according to NASA.

The Quadrantid meteor shower is seen in the night sky over the city of Korla in China’s Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture, on January 4, 2022.

Xue Bing/Costfoto/Future Publishing/Getty Images

Keep an eye on the north-to-northeastern sky. Stand or sit with the moon at your back from 2 a.m. local time onward and view the skies for at least an hour, the American Meteor Society advises.

Visibility will depend on any wintry inclement weather in the Northern Hemisphere. And the moon will be about 51% full, which may impact the visibility of the shower, but the society recommends trying to block the moon with a tree or building.

If you live in an urban area, you may want to drive to a place that isn’t full of bright city lights. If you’re able to find an area unaffected by light pollution, meteors could be visible every couple of minutes from late evening until dawn.

Find an open area with a wide view of the sky. Make sure you have a chair or blanket so you can look straight up. And give your eyes about 20 to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness — without looking at your phone — so the meteors will be easier to spot.

Unusual origins

If the meteor shower’s name sounds odd, it’s probably because it doesn’t sound as if it’s related to a constellation. That’s because the Quadrantids’ namesake constellation no longer exists — at least, not as a recognized constellation.

The constellation Quadrans Muralis, first observed and noted in 1795 between Boötes and Draco, is no longer included in the International Astronomical Union’s list of modern constellations because it’s considered obsolete and isn’t used as a landmark for celestial navigation anymore, according to EarthSky.

Like the Geminid meteor shower, the Quadrantids come from a mysterious asteroid or “rock comet,” rather than an icy comet, which is unusual. This particular asteroid is 2003 EH1, which takes 5.52 years to complete one orbit around the sun and measures 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) across.

But astronomers believe a second object, Comet 96P/Machholz, may contribute to the shower, according to EarthSky. The comet orbits the sun every 5.3 years.

Scientists think a larger comet was gravitationally bound into a short orbit by the sun around 2000 BC. The comet left behind meteors for years before breaking apart sometime between the years 100 and 950. As a result, the comet left behind many celestial offspring known collectively as the Machholz Complex, which includes the Quadrantid meteor shower’s parent bodies Comet 96P/Machholz and asteroid 2003 EH1 as well as two different comet groups and eight meteor showers, according to EarthSky.

Meteor showers of 2024

After the Quadrantids, there is a bit of a lull in meteor shower activity, and the next one won’t occur until April.

Lyrids: April 21-22

Eta Aquariids: May 4-5

Southern delta Aquariids: July 29-30

Alpha Capricornids: July 30-31

Perseids: August 11-12

Draconids: October 7-8

Orionids: October 20-21

Southern Taurids: November 4-5

Northern Taurids: November 11-12

Leonids: November 17-18

Geminids: December 13-14

Ursids: December 21-22

Full moons and supermoons

Twelve full moons will occur during 2024, and September and October’s lunar events will also be considered supermoons, according to EarthSky.

Definitions of a supermoon can vary, but the term generally denotes a full moon that is closer to Earth than normal and thus appears larger and brighter in the night sky. Some astronomers say the phenomenon occurs when the moon is within 90% of perigee — its closest approach to Earth in orbit.

Each month’s full moon is associated with a specific name, according to the Farmers’ Almanac. But the full moons have a variety of names and meanings, according to different indigenous tribes.

Here are the full moons of 2024:

January 25: Wolf moon

February 24: Snow moon

March 25: Worm moon

April 23: Pink moon

May 23: Flower moon

June 21: Strawberry moon

July 21: Buck moon

August 19: Sturgeon moon

September 17: Harvest moon

October 17: Hunter’s moon

November 15: Beaver moon

December 15: Cold moon

Solar and lunar eclipses

Multiple eclipses will occur in 2024, including two types of lunar eclipses and two types of solar eclipses, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

The most highly anticipated of these events is the total solar eclipse occurring on April 8, which will be visible to those in Mexico, the United States and Canada. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, completely blocking the sun’s face.

Those within the path of totality, or locations where the moon’s shadow will completely cover the sun, will see a total solar eclipse. People outside the path of totality will still be able to see a partial solar eclipse, in which the moon only obscures part of the sun’s face.

A total solar eclipse won’t be visible across the contiguous US again until August 2044.

An annular solar eclipse will occur in the sky on October 2 over parts of South America. This type of eclipse is similar to a total solar eclipse, except the moon is at the farthest point in its orbit from Earth, so it can’t completely block the sun. Instead, annular solar eclipses create a “ring of fire” in the sky as the sun’s fiery light surrounds the moon’s shadow.

Meanwhile, a penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible to many across Europe, North and East Asia, Australia, Africa, North America, and South America between March 24-25.

A lunar eclipse, which causes the moon to look dark or dimmed, occurs when the sun, Earth and moon align so that the moon passes into Earth’s shadow. A penumbral lunar eclipse is more subtle and happens when the moon moves through the outer shadow, or penumbra, of the Earth.

A partial lunar eclipse, when the Earth moves between the sun and the full moon without being perfectly aligned, will appear over Europe and much of Asia, Africa, North America and South America between September 17-18.

Check Time and Date’s website to see when each of these eclipses will appear.


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