Tonight the first major meteor shower of 2012 is scheduled to peak in intensity. The Quadrantids (QUA) are often missed shower due to their short duration of high activity and the fact that they peak in the middle of NH winter. Hence it is easy to miss the peak especially if it is bitterly cold outside.
This year the QUA are scheduled to peak around ~7:20 UT on the night of January 4. This works out to be 2:20 EST, 1:20 CST, 12:20 MST and 11:20 PST. Still recent years suggest rates should be near maximum for 4-6 hours on either side of the peak so observers from Europe to North America have a good chance of seeing a nice show. The waxing gibbous Moon sets after 3 am which is nearly perfect since the radiant of the QUA is only then getting high enough to easily observe. It is best to dress warm and catch the Quadrantids during the last 3 hours or so of the night. Meteors will appear to radiate from the northeast. Live reports and activity rates can be found at the IMO’s Live ZHR page.
The Quadrantids are named after the constellation that meteors appear to radiate from. But unlike the rest of the meteor showers, the Quadrantids are named after a constellation that is no longer recognized as official, Quadrans Muralis. Nowadays this patch of the sky is located in northern Boötes.
Most meteor showers are the result of dust released from comets. The Quadrantids are probably no different even though the only object that matches their orbit is an asteroid named 2003 EH1. It is likely that EH1 was an active comet in the past and their is evidence that is was observed as a comet back in 1490.
For the past 2-3 years I have operated a meteor camera system (the SALSA system). Due to a recent move to a new home, the system is still boxed up till I figure out where to place it. Hopefully the SALSA camera will be back online in the next few weeks. In the meantime I plan to watch the QUA the old fashion way from my new and darker 🙂 backyard.