The year 2016 has been rung in, and here to greet it are the Quadrantid meteors, the debris stream from asteroid 2003 EH1 that Mother Earth tumbles through each January.
By all accounts, this year’s cascade of shooting stars is set to be a stunner.
“The two best meteor showers in 2016 will be the Quadrantids in early January and the Perseids in mid-August,” predicts Sky & Telescope.
Calling them “brief but active,” Sky & Telescope notes that although the peak lasts but a few hours, it could make up for that in volume. “This shower varies a lot in intensity and occasionally delivers 200 meteors per hour as seen from a dark site.”
When will this vision be realized? Overnight from Sunday January 3 through early pre-dawn January 4. Between midnight and dawn are the most likely hours to catch a slew of meteors.
National Geographic offers a slightly lower estimate on volume, though still predicts a pretty good show.
“Peak rates this morning will range anywhere from 60 to 120 shooting stars per hour from a dark location,” National Geographic said. “The meteors will appear to radiate from the northeast sky, just off the handle of the Big Dipper.”
As usual, the Slooh online telescope will broadcast the shower starting at 7p.m. Eastern Standard Time, and the website TimeandDate.com has details on the best places to look in the sky if you are so inclined.
The Quadrantids differ from other meteor showers in that they peak only for a few hours rather than over a few days. In other words, blink and you’ll miss it. However, as dicey as that sounds, it’s still worth a shot, especially since the moon is a sliver, and its light will not interfere.
“If you’re thinking of watching the Quadrantids, do it,” exhorts Earthsky.org. “Meteor shower peaks are rarely certain, and sometimes a gamble on a shower will reward you with a good show. Just be aware you might not see a whole lot of meteors! No matter where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the best time to watch is between midnight and dawn, local time. Fortunately, the waning crescent moon shouldn’t intrude too greatly on the January 2016 Quadrantid meteor shower!”
While you’re waiting for some shooting stars to wish on for 2016, scan the skies for some planets as well.
“Just before dawn on January 4, the waning crescent moon will be rather close to Mars, and you can use the moon and Mars to guide you to three more morning planets,” notes Earthsky.org. “Jupiter shines to the west of the moon and Jupiter, and the planets Venus and Saturn sit low in the southeast during the dark hour before dawn.”