The annual Quadrantid meteor shower is one of the year’s best. In 2011, this shower will be especially good because it reaches its peak the evening of January 3, within 8 hours of New Moon. So, not only will you see bright meteors easily, but you’ll also count quite a few fainter “shooting stars.”
Astronomers predict that the Quadrantids will peak around 8 p.m. EST January 3. That time works best for Europe, but North American meteor-watchers should also keep an eye out because predicting meteor showers isn’t an exact science yet. New Moon occurs at 4:03 a.m. EST January 4, so no distracting moonlight will pollute the sky.
You’ll need a clear, dark sky to see more than just a few Quadrantids. “Dark” means at least 40 miles from the lights of a large city. You won’t need a telescope or even binoculars — in fact, the eyes alone work best because they provide the largest field of view.
Astronomy magazine contributing editor Raymond Shubinski, who has observed more than 100 meteor showers, offers an important point: “Comfort counts when observing meteor showers,” Shubinski says. “Most importantly, you must keep warm. Observing is not a physical activity — you’ll just be standing or sitting.”
Meteors will light up the winter sky
When you’re ready to start observing, set up a lawn chair, preferably one that reclines. To see the maximum number of meteors, just look overhead. Glancing around won’t hurt anything.
Shubinski advises observers to keep a running tally of meteors. “By doing that,” he says, “you’ll get a good idea of how your site compares with observing sites around the world.”
How many Quadrantids will you see? Most years under clear, moonless conditions, observers count 120 meteors per hour from a dark site. That’s an average of two shooting stars a minute!