You won’t have to wait long for your first opportunity in 2021 to do some skywatching. The annual Quadrantids meteor shower will be peaking this weekend, bringing hundreds of shooting stars to the nighttime skies.
It’s the first major astronomy event of the year and will peak during a two-night window, specifically on Saturday, January 2, and Sunday, January 3.
According to astronomers, it will feature anywhere from 60 to 200 meteors per hour, so it’s worth spending a couple of minutes starring into the cosmos (especially if you’ve already binged Netflix and HBO Max to death).
If you’d like to check out all the astronomical action this weekend, here’s everything you’ll need to know about the best times to see some shooting stars.
Why Is It Called the Quadrantids?
Like other showers, it’s named for the constellation located near the radiant (or origin) point for the meteors. In this case, it’s the Quadrans Muralis, a constellation that’s no longer recognized by astronomers and is now known as Bootes (the meteor shower is alternately known as the Bootids).
So What’s Causing All These Meteors?
As any astronomer will tell you, showers are caused by our planet passing through dust, rock, and ice left behind by comets. And when this stellar matter hits the Earth’s atmosphere and burns up, it causes shooting stars. During January, our orbit crosses paths with the detritus of the extinct comet 2003 EH1, which was discovered by Arizona astronomers in 2003.
When's the Best Time to View the Quadrantids Meteor Shower?
Between now and mid-January. As we said, it will peak this year on Saturday, January 2, and Sunday, January 3. Your best time for viewing is during the early morning hours between 3 and 5 a.m. In other words, better set your alarms.
Where In the Sky Should You Look?
Low in the northwestern sky toward the general area of the constellation Bootes. As we mentioned, the meteors will appear to emanate from there.
Are There Any Apps You Can Use?
Sorta. While there are now meteor-tracking apps, basic skywatching and stargazing apps for iOS and Android like Star Chart, SkySafari, and Solar Walk all can be used to locate the constellation.
What Will the Viewing Conditions Be Like?
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. The moon will be in its waning gibbous phase, which means it will be fairly bright in the sky and will reduce the number of meteors that can be seen. If you’re in the right location, though, you should still be able to spy a fair number of shooting stars. Speaking of which...
Where Are the Best Locations for Viewing?
Anywhere with wide-open skies that’s as dark as possible and offers little in the way of light pollution. Basically, that means driving away from the city lights to the outskirts of the Valley and places like Buckeye, Anthem, Queen Creek, or Carefree.