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A fine year for the icy Quads: Here's a chance to catch the richest meteor shower you've never seen.

Have you ever seen a single Quadrantid meteor? The Quads are supposed to be one of the richest annual showers, with peak rates of 60 to 200 meteors visible per hour under ideal conditions. But many lifelong skywatchers have never even seen one.

The Quads have two problems. First, the shower is brief. Peak activity usually lasts just a few hours, and if the peak doesn't fall between midnight and dawn for your part of the world, you miss out. The duration of the peak (when meteor rates are at least half the maximum) is variously quoted as 2 to 4 hours, or 14 hours. And the strength of the shower may vary less from year to year than the sometimes spotty observations suggest. Clearly the Quads could use more study.

The second problem is that you're watching in the night's coldest hours in the year's coldest time, under a wide-open clear sky that will also expose you to maximum radiational cooling. And if you're lying still in a reclining chair or on the ground (or the snow), you're not generating much heat.

So, make it an adventure. This year the morning of January 4th offers very good circumstances for North Americans, especially in the East. The Quadrantids are predicted to peak around 7h or 8h Universal Time; 2 or 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. The waxing gibbous Moon sets about 3 a.m. local time, leaving the sky fully dark until dawn begins around 6.

Plan a proper expedition. You want to be snug in many layers from head to feet with no pinches or thin spots. An electric hot pad buttoned inside your clothing will help. Meteor watching is especially fun if you take notes to make a proper count using standardized methods for reporting to the International Meteor Organization. (For instructions on how to do this, see "Advanced Meteor Observing" at SkyandTelescope.com/meteors). If you use a voice recorder for notes, practice beforehand so you can work it in the dark with mittened hands. Batteries fail in the cold, but a pencil and clipboard won't. Your mittened pencil notes don't need to be pretty, just clear enough to read the next day. And be sure you can get to your watch and read it to mark off time intervals every half hour or so for separate counts. Many digital voice recorders offer the convenience of automatic time stamps.

The shower's radiant, its apparent perspective point of origin, is in the antique constellation Quadrans Muralis about halfway from the end of the big Dipper's handle to the head of Draco, as seen at right. It's rising in the northeast by about 1 a.m. local time and climbs higher until dawn. The higher a shower's radiant, the more meteors appear all over the sky. Watch whatever part of your sky is darkest, probably straight up.

The meteors that arrive late in this shower tend to be brighter than the early ones. Minor activity has been reported as much as a week before and after the peak date; this needs to be monitored too.

Asteroid Occultations

Among the asteroid occultations that will cross North America in January, just waiting for you to time them, three stand out for the brightness of the stars that will wink out:

* On the evening of January 8th, the faint asteroid 75 Eurydike will cover up an 8.3-magnitude star in Auriga for up to 5 seconds along a track from North Carolina through Texas.

* On the morning of January 19th, 911 Agamemnon will occult an 8.0-magnitude star in Lynx for up to 9 seconds along a track from the Washington, D.C. region northwest across most of the Great Lakes.

* On the evening of January 29th, 1746 Brouwer will occult a 7.0-magnitude star in Aries for up to 4 seconds along a path from Oregon through the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to Massachusetts.

For finder charts, path maps, and further information, see asteroidoccultation.com/IndexAll .htm. Here you'll also find many more asteroidoccultation predictions worldwide.

For all about observing and timing these events, see asteroidoccultation.com/ asteroid_help.htm.

For more past results, see asteroidoccultation .com/observations/Results.
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Title Annotation:Celestial Calendar
Author:MacRobert, Alan
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Words:699
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