How to see the Quadrantid meteor shower

Astronomers and amateur stargazers are in for a “spectacular show” as the Quadrantid meteor shower hits its peak on Tuesday night, according to the Daily Mail.

The phenomenon is “renowned for producing bright ‘fireball’ meteors which leave large explosions of light and colour that persist longer than average meteor streaks”, said the paper. And more than 100 meteors an hour could appear across the sky tonight.

What is it?

The Royal Observatory Greenwich said the Quadrantid is “among the strongest and most consistent meteor showers, and could reach a maximum rate of 110 meteors per hour on a clear night”.

Meteor showers occur when pieces of debris from space enter the atmosphere at speeds up to 70km per second, “vaporising and causing the streaks of light we call meteors”.

However, while most meteor showers originate from debris left behind by comets, the Quadrantid is a result of the Earth passing through the debris left behind by the near-Earth asteroid 2003 EH1, first identified by Nasa astronomer Peter Jenniskens in 2003.

Although its origins have been uncovered only fairly recently, Quadrantid meteor showers were first observed by Chinese astronomers more than 500 years ago.

Most other meteor showers have a two-day peak, but the Quadrantid peak is shorter, “due to the shower’s thin stream of particles and the fact that the Earth crosses the stream at a perpendicular angle”, said the Mail.

When and where to see it in the UK

While the total period of the meteor shower lasts for more than two weeks, the optimal time to see it in the UK will be the nights of Tuesday 3 January and Wednesday 4 January, peaking at 3am on the morning of 4 January.

“The most important thing,” said Sky News, “is to get yourself away from street lights and other sources of light pollution.” Quadrantids can be seen with the naked eye so there is no need for binoculars or a telescope but give your eyes 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness.

The Independent said that “several smartphone apps also offer tips and instructions for viewing the Quadrantid meteor shower, including using the phone’s inbuilt gyroscope and GPS location to point users in the right direction of where the meteors will appear”.

“Unfortunately, 2023 will not be a good year to look for the Quadrantid meteor shower,” said, with the full Moon on Friday providing extra light pollution of its own. Sky News said the weather is also not great for observing the night sky, with “rain forecast for much of the country, although the further north you go the clearer things look – the far northwest of Scotland looks mainly fine”.

For stargazers who want the best possible chance to see the shower – and are willing to brave the elements – ITV suggested visiting one of the UK’s “dark sky” reserves at one of six national parks: Exmoor, Brecon Beacons, Moore’s Reserve in the South Downs, Snowdonia, North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales.

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