Quadrantid meteor shower 2022: when it is, how to see it

Start 2022 with the first major meteor shower of the year.

Published: January 4, 2022 at 11:06 am
Try BBC Sky at Night Magazine today and save 30%!

The Quadrantid meteor shower heralds the start of 2022' meteor activity.

Advertisement

Despite the cold, if the sky is clear on the evening of 3 January, it is well worth putting in the effort as the Quadrantid meteor shower can deliver a fantastic display.

For more info, read our meteor shower guide.

Where will the Quadrantids be visible?

A chart showing the radiant of the Quadrantid meteor shower in 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence
A chart showing the radiant of the Quadrantid meteor shower in 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

The region of the sky from which a meteor shower appears to emanate is known as the 'radiant'.

The Quadrantid meteor shower's radiant is located in a region of sky which used to be known as Quadrans Muralis (the Mural Quadrant), which is how the shower gets its name

However, but Quadrans Muralis is no longer recognised as one of the 88 official constellations. It is now one of many other forgotten constellations.

The radiant location is in the region bounded by Draco, Boötes and Hercules.

The Plough asterism is a handy tool for imaging where the radiant is during peak activity.

Extend the line from Megrez (Delta (δ) Ursae Majoris) through Mizar (Zeta (ξ) Ursae Majoris) for 1.5x that distance again and you’ll be in the general vicinity of the radiant.

Use the Plough asterism to help you find the Quadrantid meteor shower radiant. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Use the Plough asterism to help you find the Quadrantid meteor shower radiant. Credit: Pete Lawrence

In case you struggle identifying Greek-lettered stars, the stars in the Plough are lettered in sequence starting at the west through to the east (at the end of the Plough’s handle).

As long as you know the first seven Greek letters, α (alpha), β (beta), γ (gamma), δ (delta), ε (epsilon), ξ (zeta) and η (eta), you should be able to locate the stars we mentioned quite easily.

When to see the Quadrantid meteor shower

The Quadrantid meteor shower reaches peak activity at 14:30 UT 0n 3 January 2021 in daylight. A meteor watch on the night of 2/3 January will see the build up to the peak, while one on the 03/04 will see its decline. Credit: Pete Lawrence
A Quadrantid meteor. Credit: Pete Lawrence

The Quadrantids are expected to reach peak activity around 20:40 UT on 3 January.

This represents the period when Earth will be passing through the densest part of the Quadrantid stream (for more on this, read our guide on what causes a meteor shower).

Unfortunately, the radiant will only be around 8˚ up at this time.

A usual Quadrantid shower shows heightened activity for a few hours either side of the peak.

The rates will begin to drop off as we head into the morning of 4 January, but the increasing altitude of the radiant should help to compensate to a degree, keeping things interesting through to dawn.

Þ A Quadrantid meteor train distorting under the influence of high-altitude winds. Credit: Pete Lawrence
A Quadrantid meteor train distorting under the influence of high-altitude winds. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Where will the Moon be?

Paying attention to what the phase and location of the Moon will be is vital when planning to observe a meteor shower.

A bright, full Moon in the sky during peak activity can drown out meteors, making some showers a wash-out.

The Moon will be new on the evening of 2 January, which means that on the night of the Quadrantid peak it will not interfere.

For weekly Moon phases, dates and times delivered directly to your email inbox, sign up to receive the BBC Sky at Night Magazine e-newsletter.

How to see a Quadrantid meteor

Watching a meteor shower doesn't require any fancy equipment: just clear, dark skies, warm clothing and some good company. Credit: Anthony Sabatino / EyeEm / Getty Images
Watching a meteor shower doesn't require any fancy equipment: just clear, dark skies, warm clothing and some good company. Credit: Anthony Sabatino / EyeEm / Getty Images

Meteor observing doesn't require any telescopes or fancy equipment. All you need is your naked eye and, preferably, some good company.

You will need to find a dark unobstructed observing site and plan to observe in periods no shorter than 30 minutes.

A garden recliner makes a great observing platform, but don’t forget to wrap up warm!

It may take about 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the darkness, but after a while you should start to see more stars and, hopefully, some meteors shooting across the sky.

Avoid using lights such as torches and mobile phones as this will spoil your adapted night vision. If you really need to, use a red torch or turn your phone's screen red in the settings.

A Quadrantid meteor appears in the night sky along with the Milky Way and the Aurora over Banff National Park, Canada, 3 January 2009. Credit: Stocktrek Images / Getty Images
A Quadrantid meteor appears in the night sky along with the Milky Way and the Aurora over Banff National Park, Canada, 3 January 2009. Credit: Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Use a star chart or stargazing app to find Draco, Boötes, Ursa Major and Hercules.

Look around this region of the sky and, if you happen to see a meteor shooting away from it during the shower's activity period, chances are you've just seen a Quadrantid.

How many Quadrantid meteors will I be able to see?

The Quadrantid meteor shower is a high-rate shower with a typical peak ZHR (zenithal hourly rate) of 120 meteors per hour, which has been known to vary between 60–200 meteors per hour.

However, note that the ZHR figure is a normalised value of what you could expect to see under perfect conditions.

It's used to allow comparison between meteor showers and doesn’t represent what you’ll actually see.

The visual hourly rate is often significantly lower than the quoted ZHR and varies over the course of a night.

Advertisement

This guide originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

Authors

Pete Lawrence, astronomer and BBC The Sky at Night presenter.
Pete LawrenceAstronomer and presenter

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer, and a presenter on BBC's The Sky at Night.

Sponsored content