ST. LOUIS – The Quadrantids Meteor Shower peaks during early January each year and is considered to be one of the best annual meteor showers. This year’s peak was January 2nd into the early morning hours of the 3rd.
In St. Louis, the best bet to view this meteor shower was Monday morning before sunrise. But there are some challenges to catching the Quadrantids.
“The peak for the Quadrantids is particularly challenging because it’s only six hours long and where the meteors appear to come from doesn’t clear the horizon enough until about 3 am in January,” said Eric Gustafson, Planetarium Senior Educator at the St. Louis Science Center. “Even though it can be one of the most active meteor showers it’s one most people don’t get a chance to see just because of those situations.”
According to NASA, during the peak of the Quadrantids as many as 60 to 200 meteors can be seen per hour under perfect viewing conditions. Gustafson said this number can vary widely.
“It all depends on the debris stream we are going through. Meteor showers are caused typically by comets. As that big hunk of ice gets closer to the sun it heats up and being that it’s in a vacuum of space it doesn’t melt, it sublimates. And as those gases are building up they’re then released and that carries with it a lot of the debris the ice had trapped up. As the comet goes around the sun its going to leave behind it debris streams. And over time those can shift and expand,” Gustafson said. “So some years you may get 60 and some you may have an outstanding year with 125 per hour.”
The Quadrantids are known for their bright fireball meteors, which are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. Fireballs originate from larger particles of material.
Another thing that makes the Quadrantids unique is that while most meteor showers are caused by comets, this one is caused by an object called 2003 EH1, which is classified as an asteroid or a near earth object.
“It’s kind of strange for an asteroid to be the source of a meteor shower. The other famous shower that’s caused by an asteroid is the Geminids in December. Some recent research has found that the reason it might be happening from an asteroid is because as they get close enough to the sun, sodium begins to vaporize and it outgases like a comet does normally. That could be what’s releasing the debris,” said Gustafson. “Historically, most people describe this asteroid as probably an extinct comet. But they don’t know for sure.”
To view the Quadrantids, find an area well away from city and streetlights. Viewing is best during the night and predawn hours. Lie flat on your back with your feet facing the northeast. Within 30 minutes of being in the dark your eyes will adapt, and you may begin to see meteors.