The first meteor shower of 2015, the lesser known Quadrantid meteor shower, kicks off a new skywatching year as it peaks in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, putting on a brief but spectacular cosmic fireworks display, which unfortunately is expected to be washed out by a bright moon.
According to scientists, the Quadrantid meteors probably originate from the asteroid 2003 EH1. Most meteor showers get their name based on the constellations from which they appear to streak. When we look at the so-called radiants, we are looking down the paths of the meteors that strike Earth’s atmosphere.
Because of the location of the radiant, only northern hemisphere skywatchers will be able to see the Quadrantids.
The Quadrantids were named after the constellation of Quadrans Muralis, the wall quadrant, which was created by the French astronomer Jerome Lalande in 1795. Quadrans represents an early astronomical instrument that was used to observe and plot stars.
Interestingly, the constellation is no longer recognized by the astronomical community, but was around long enough to give the meteor shower its name, which lives on with the January meteor shower.
The Quadrantids can be quite impressive with a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of up to 120 meteors per hour at their peak (under perfect conditions) entering Earth’s atmosphere at a blistering speed of nearly 42 kilometers per second. The peak is quite narrow lasting only a few hours, with activity either side of the peak sometimes being weak, but well worth observing.