The first meteor shower of the new year is the Quadrantid shower. The shower is named after the discarded constellation Quadrans Muralis (the mural quadrant) whose stars were incorporated within the boundaries of neighbouring Hercules, Bootes and Draco when the the IAU reorganised the constellations in 1928.
The position of the radiant is shown on the star chart below; it is situated about one-third of way between the tail of the Plough and the star Vega.
The star chart shows the sky as seen from the latitude of Hauxley, Northumberland (a little over 55 degrees N) at 6.00am on January 4th. The radiant is almost overhead at this time and meteors will appear to radiate from this point, appearing anywhere in the sky.
Meteors (aka shooting stars) appear when grains of dust slam into the upper atmosphere at high speed and disintegrate (usually harmlessly). The dusty trail encountered by the Earth during the first week of each January was laid down by an object called 2003EH1. Although it's an apparently an asteroid, this object may have begun life as a comet, generating the dusty trails we now encounter.
Typical meteors from this shower are relatively slow moving and enter the atmosphere at about 42km/s (94,000 mph). Like I said, relatively slow! The brighter meteors are sometimes strongly coloured (red or green). The shower is active from last days of December until the end of the first week of January. The peak of the shower is predicted to occur at around 7pm on the 3rd, which will mean the radiant is very low near the northern horizon. The ZHR of the peak is generally 100-120 per hour. Unlike many other meteor showers, the Quadrantid peak is generally very narrow (rates are much lower outside the 6-8 hour window centred on the maximum). As the night draws on and the radiant climbs higher in the sky then the number of meteors will probably be seen to increase.
This is a good year to observe the Quadrantid shower. There is no interference from moonlight in the early hours of the 4th.
I think a lot of amateur astronomers probably overlook this shower because it tends to require more commitment! January mornings are usually freezing cold and may require loss of sleep before a working day. It is one of the more consistent showers of the year so it's worth the effort in moonless years like this one.
Welcome to my blog!
Dr Adrian Jannetta. Amateur astronomer, maths teacher and science enthusiast.