Blink twice and you might miss the 2017 Quadrantids meteor shower

3 Jan 2017

Long exposure shot of Quadrantids meteor shower. Image: L1mey/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Getting 2017 off to a cosmic start, the Quadrantids meteor shower will fill the night sky for a short period in the early hours of 4 January.

Unlike many of the meteor showers that will appear in our skies throughout 2017, the Quadrantids meteor shower will pass by in the astronomical equivalent of the blink of an eye.

While it will first appear as a number of streaks in the night sky tonight (3 January) in Ireland, much of its brief few hours will appear during the early hours of 4 January across the northern hemisphere.

Best way to see it

Regardless of where you are in the northern half of our planet, it is possible to spot the streaks through the darkness wherever you are looking.

However, astronomers have said that the optimal place to be to observe the shower is to lie flat on the ground in a dark area and look northwards at the sky above.

Seemingly agreeing with the old adage that the candle that burns twice as fast burns half as long, the Quadrantids shower is one of the shortest, but most intense annual meteor showers of the year.

Quadrantids meteor shower 2017


Origin of the name

Typically, the shower will see 100 meteors pass by overhead each hour and will appear to come from the direction of the North Star.

With its peak time having been surpassed at 2pm UTC, those in the western coast of the US and across much of Asia will last for just one hour, before the rate of meteors will gradually decline.

Its origins come from the disintegration of the extinct comet 2003 EH1, whose remnants annually appear in our skies to put on a show that has in the past produced a number of significant fireballs, much to the joy of photographers around the world.

As for the origin of the name Quadrantids, a nomenclature hangover saw it keep its name despite the constellation it was named after – Quadrans Muralis – being made defunct by the International Astronomical Union in 1922.

Long exposure shot of Quadrantids meteor shower. Image: L1mey/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic